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2 on council favor limiting unions

To introduce 3 plans Tuesday; mayor in opposition

– The debate over proposals to eliminate collective bargaining for city employees has begun four days before the proposals were even due to be introduced.

Councilmen Russ Jehl, R-2nd, and John Crawford, R-at large, are proposing ordinances that would largely eliminate the current relationship the city has with its unions.

“Our responsibility to the taxpayer is to provide top notch services in a fiscally responsible manner,” Jehl said in a statement. “The current system puts the interests of the unions above the welfare of the public. This must change.”

Crawford said the proposals are all about the taxpayer.

“The city will always have to pay its employees market wages and benefits; we should not have to pay above-market values,” Crawford said. “Allen County government has no unionized workforce. Comparable positions, in each government unit, show the city employee is paid more in wages and benefits.”

Mayor Tom Henry’s administration opposes the move.

“I don’t think we deliver better, more affordable city services by attacking the people who deliver those services. I don’t think you win the future with last-century ideas that penalize the very people you’re depending on for new ideas and smarter solutions,” Henry said in a statement.

“I don’t think we build a better Fort Wayne by beating up on the employees who plowed snow for weeks on end without a day off, who run fearlessly into burning buildings, who turn on a dime to keep us safe.”

Even if the measure passes the City Council – which is not assured – Henry could veto it.

“Take away a worker’s voice, and you take away his or her dignity,” Henry said. “That’s a poor message when our goal is to have the best and brightest on our team. Besides, it’s just plain wrong.”

Three proposals are to be introduced Tuesday:

•One eliminates collective bargaining for all non-public safety employees;

•The second option eliminates collective bargaining rights for the six non-public safety unions and replaces them with two unions created by the city – one for City Utilities workers and another for civil city employees;

•The third proposal would eliminate all nine unions, including those for police and firefighters. Only Crawford is proposing the third option.

Crawford and Jehl said they offered the second option – consolidating six non-public safety unions into two – as an alternative, but both men believe the first option, to eliminate six unions entirely, is the best option.

The consolidated unions they propose would allow 30 percent of union members to sign a petition forcing a decertification vote.

Sofia Rosales-Scatena, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said it is especially insulting that the proposals were announced during National Police Week. The PBA represents the police department’s rank-and-file members.

“We’re really taken aback,” Rosales-Scatena said. “I’m at a loss to figure out why now.”

Some city officials say privately that the timing appears to be motivated by the state Republican Convention being held in Fort Wayne from June 6 to 8.

Jeremy Bush, president of the firefighters union, said the controversy could have been avoided with communication.

“I don’t understand why they wouldn’t sit down with us,” Bush said. “We have a long history of working with the city administration. I don’t see the value in completely eradicating something that has been efficient and effective for years.”

Normally, ordinances are introduced as a formality, without discussion, then debated a week or two later in committee session. Tuesday’s meeting, however, could see a debate over whether the three proposals should even be introduced.

Bush pointed out that the council approves all union contracts, so it already has a say in workers’ wages and benefits.

“What glaring problem do we have?” Bush asked. “Work with us, don’t work against us.”

Henry said working in partnership with the city’s unions produces better results for taxpayers.

“We’ve found it’s been most effective to work in partnership with them to find new ideas and solutions to save taxpayer dollars and improve city services,” Henry said.

“Every winning organization in the world knows you need your employees to be motivated and treated with respect to achieve superior results.”