Collective bargaining: issue for 2015 mayoral candidates?

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The issue of collective bargaining continues to make headlines in the news, and an area political analyst said it could be the first key point of disagreement that differentiates mayoral candidates next year.

While no official announcements have been made to date, there is heavy speculation that incumbent Mayor Tom Henry and Councilman Mitch Harper will face off for the seat next year. Both men have raised money for next year’s election, but that does not specify for what seat.

When it comes to collective bargaining, the two men have widely disagreed. “Collective bargaining is one of the issues you can look at and say, alright, there is a clear difference on where the Republicans and Democrats stand on it,” Andy Downs, the director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW, told NewsChannel 15. “Obviously both will try to play that up. Democrats will rally a group of volunteers to their side. Republicans think they have a broader, more popular opinion on their side.”

Over the last several weeks, Harper, a Republican, has either introduced or supported several new limitations on collective bargaining. The latest coming Tuesday night, where the councilman introduced legislation that would require agreements on collective bargaining between the city and city unions be brought to council by council’s next meeting after its ratification.

“There are new ways of dealing with employees and employment situations in this country,” Harper said. “There are new models of cooperation, and I think we need to explore those.”

Throughout the entire collective bargaining debate, Henry, a Democrat, has opposed changes and sided with labor unions along the way.

Back in June, Henry vetoed council’s decision to eliminate the collective bargaining process for non-public safety employees, and hinted that the moves by council were politically motivated. “They worked on Christmas Eve, News Year’s Eve, and volunteered in many cases to make sure that our citizens were safe,” he said when he signed the veto. “This is how they’re getting repaid?  Perhaps it’s politically motivated.”

Downs said city leaders, despite their party affiliation, have gotten along for years.

“If you look at the history of Fort Wayne going back to the 1970s, there have been some moments when there has been some vigorous disagreements between council and the mayor, but for the most part they have been able to work together,” said Downs, who credited city leaders’ willingness to work together to the city’s steady growth for the same time span.

Harper agreed that council and the mayor have seen eye-to-eye on most issues, but said his latest legislation on collective bargaining was about political positioning.

“I don’t think so, this discussion just over when agreements are filed for consideration by the council and you’ve got an unexplained delay of six months, four months, it’s certainly not as clear of a line that the administration has wanted to portray,” Harper said.

Downs and Harper both said they expect other issues to come out between now and when voters cast their ballots, some may not even be predictable right now. But with the attention collective bargaining has gotten, Downs said it would be wise to use it as leverage to get votes.

“If the candidates are smart, they’ll use this to their advantage,” Downs said. “The question is will they be able to do it in a way that’s productive. At some point, the public might say, wait a minute, is there really something here? The administration argues there isn’t. Mitch Harper argues there is.”

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