FORT WAYNE – Hundreds of union members jammed City Council chambers Tuesday, hoping to persuade council members not to introduce three bills that would curtail or end entirely city employees' collective bargaining rights.
The 75 seats were full, about 100 more people were standing and 100 more were in the hallway as the meeting got underway, but it was to no avail: The council voted 6-2 in favor of introduction.
That largely procedural move allows the bills to be discussed in committee next week and possibly win final approval May 27.
“It's also possible you could come to your senses and withdraw them before then,” Glynn Hines told John Crawford, R-at large, who, along with Russ Jehl, R-2nd, proposed the bills.
Hines spoke passionately against the bills and voted against introduction.
Of the three bills up for debate:
•One eliminates collective bargaining for all nonpublic safety employees;
•The second option eliminates collective bargaining rights for the six nonpublic 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.
John Shoaff, D-at large, indicated that he opposes the bills but voted for introduction, saying the topic deserves discussion.
“I see a vote to introduce much differently than a vote to pass,” Shoaff said. You can expect me to make strong statements in favor of collective bargaining, but I will vote for introduction because we are a deliberative body. … I will be happy to see a deep, thorough discussion.”
Hines, however, said the idea shouldn't even be discussed.
“I think these three bills are kind of like telling me to choose between lethal injection, firing squad or hanging, and I haven't committed a crime,” Hines said to wild applause from the crowd. “It's ‘No,' ‘No,' and ‘Hell, no.' ”
Geoff Paddock, D-5th, said any proposed changes should have been the result of a sincere public discussion, not the other way around. He joined Hines in voting no.
“I don't feel comfortable discussing an ordinance that makes the drastic changes laid out here,” he said.
Tom Didier, R-3rd, voted for introduction but said he doesn't understand what unions do or what their purpose is and that he wants to learn more.
“Just give me an opportunity to understand, that's all I'm asking,” Didier told the crowd, which responded with applause.
Mitch Harper, R-4th, who is running for mayor next year, said he agreed with Shoaff that regardless of his thoughts on the issue, the bills should be introduced so they can be debated.
But he also said unions have key roles to play, especially when it comes to worker safety and said that input from city unions, especially on safety, “would be valuable to me.”
Council members heard nearly an hour of public comment on the issue, with some speakers in tears and others shaking with anger.
Tyrone Woods, who said he is the senior man at the Street Department, recalled throwing sandbags with President Reagan during the Flood of '82.
And, he noted, whether it is a flood or a record-breaking winter, it is city workers who respond.
“And you drop this bomb on us? It hurts,” said Woods, whose father and five brothers also worked for the city. “You're hurting us bad, and you're hurting families. Please don't do this to us. Please don't do this to us, sir.”
Council President Marty Bender, R-at large, and a Fort Wayne deputy police chief, was absent.
Mayor Tom Henry has indicated he may veto the measures if they pass; it would take six votes on the council to override a veto.