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‘Fact-selecting and fear-mongering’

Anti-union ordinances show worst tendencies of politics

As an American citizen, I have become cynical about our national political process. As a Fort Wayne citizen, I believe that local politics are very important and one of the last places in our country where an average citizen can be heard and affect his or her community.

I am not a Republican, Democrat or independent, and I am not affiliated with any political group, union or organized labor. Yet I believe that the three ordinances submitted by Councilmen John Crawford and Russ Jehl embody some of the worst political habits in our nation.

These ordinances were announced on May 9 – a Friday – and introduced on May 13 a Tuesday – leaving only one full day for open discussion and dialogue with those it will affect. During that time, however, the councilmen had ample opportunity to voice their arguments on radio, TV news, and in long newspaper articles.

As a citizen then, even though the damage may be done, some of the “evidence” presented for these ordinances needs correcting, especially if we hope to maintain in our community some semblance of the democracy we take pride in. What has been presented to us is the worst kind of contradictory fact-selecting and fear-mongering.

Here are the top 10 examples of this offensive governance:

1. The argument behind all three ordinances is that public-sector unions are too expensive. If that is the case, then why do two of the three ordinances protect the two unions whose presidents’ full-time salaries total $200,000, while the remaining seven combined only paid $11,917 over nine months for union work? What is really being saved?

2. Yes, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average median weekly wage for a union worker in 2013 was $1,003, and that a non-union worker’s median wage was $757 for local government work. That is a national average, including data from the most heavily unionized and expensive states in the country: New York, California, Alaska and Hawaii. If we’re talking about local costs, shouldn’t we use local numbers?

3. According to the U.S. Census, the average median household income in Indiana is $48,374; Fort Wayne’s household income is $44,599 (almost $4,000 below the median); 18 percent of our neighbors live in poverty.

4. STATS Indiana (run by the Indiana Business Research Center and IU Kelley School of Business) reports that Fort Wayne, compared with the rest of Indiana, is not only below the median income per household, but that local government workers only earn an average of $1,200 more per household per year.

5. Comparing “apples to apples” between city and county jobs is pure spin. With economic data about Fort Wayne listed above, isn’t it more accurate to say that county workers are underpaid 10 percent to 20 percent, rather than city workers being overpaid? After all, everybody in Fort Wayne is making less than they would elsewhere, and STATS Indiana reports that wage decline has been consistent in Fort Wayne since 2000.

6. Detroit? Really? I am not sure which part of that argument is more offensive. The Detroit situation is complex, stretches over decades, and involves a fair amount of economic damage inflicted on the city by deindustrialization. Fort Wayne faced that challenge in the 1980s and is still on its feet. The closest thing to Detroit in the area is Youngstown, Ohio.

7. If public-sector unions have Fort Wayne slouching toward bankruptcy and our financial situation is insolvent, how have we managed major construction and renovation projects downtown over the last few years, and have just found millions more for the acquisition of Aqua Indiana and to bring in Ash Brokerage?

8. It is near impossible to compare jobs between the public and private sectors, because often comparisons can’t be made. Municipal jobs are highly trained and specific, and lack private-sector counterparts in many cases.

However, comparing the wages of a civil engineer in the two sectors from numerous sources indicates a private-sector civil engineer makes at least $7 more an hour than the public counterpart in Fort Wayne. So engineers aren’t recruited because they don’t want to join unions or because they make more money somewhere else?

9. It’s absurd to assert that the total cost of collective bargaining (not an annual cost; not all the unions bargain yearly, and contracts lasts several years) is such a massive drain on city resources that it inhibits necessary services. How we are continually able to annex new townships, acquire utilities and still manage emergency response, snow removal and the like?

10. What job does not offer its employees incentives or not have rigid work rules? The councilmen should try working retail. All employers have a set of codes, handbooks and procedures, listing possible benefits and consequences of various actions. One would think that when it comes to public service it is that much more important to have rigid work rules; the job involves serving and maintaining the public trust.

I do not know Crawford or Jehl. I have never met or spoken with them, things I would enjoy doing. I believe people can disagree and find common ground, but not when one person is kept in the dark.

I have read all three ordinances and combed through a lot of research. Nothing about what we’re being told adds up, and I do not believe the argument in front of us. I would really like to know what this is all about: why here, why now, why this way?

Jason Roy Burnett is a doctoral student in media and communications at Bowling Green State University. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.