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Editorial columns

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A manager agrees – bargaining is better

Face-to-face discussions produce many spinoff benefits

Having been involved in 10 negotiations with the American Federation of Musicians, eight of them as chief negotiator, I would like to offer a different perspective on the recent actions of City Council to deprive non-public safety workers of their collective bargaining rights.

(Councilman John Crawford errs when he says that collective bargaining is a privilege and not a right, because a right can’t be given or taken away. Voting, for example, is considered a “right,” though voting rights have been given, and infringed, often in the past.)

One might assume that having been on the management side of the table in union bargaining, that I would be opposed to collective bargaining. Just the opposite.

Yes, it can often be a laborious, time-consuming, frustrating, and contentious process, and the outcome can lead to management providing more benefits, employee-favorable work rules and higher salaries than it might if it didn’t have to negotiate. But the benefits of negotiations far outweigh any negatives.

I wish that Council would have been addressed by city lawyers and labor personnel involved in the city’s collective bargaining sessions. A thorough discussion of the actual bargaining process would perhaps have changed the votes of some councilmen who voted with Crawford.

The most important and consistent feature of collective bargaining is not disagreement about work rules or compensation – it is problem-solving. Both sides, invariably, present issues having to do with efficiency – efficient use of worker time and efficient production of work and resulting cost savings. Both sides typically want the same thing, more productivity, without placing an undue burden on the employee.

It is clear that the collective bargaining process in the city has had this effect, saving taxpayers millions over the years. As has been repeated often in this debate, our city employees are first rate, and their productivity is second to none.

The loss of collective bargaining will remove this feature, a formal process for “problem-solving,” from the employee/management relationship.

Two other major issues are employee safety and the fair treatment of employees by management. The collective bargain agreement provides employees the comfort of knowing what is expected, not only of the employee but also of management, and the grievance process, which most CBAs contain, is the employee’s means of fair redress in the case of safety issues or unfair treatment. To my knowledge, and I have inquired into this, the grievance process is seldom used in the city of Fort Wayne, which speaks well to the relationship between labor and management.

Crawford has turned the issue away from one of economics to a philosophical debate. Remarkably, he presents no numbers to suggest how much the taxpayer might save if collective bargaining is abolished. He says, “We won’t know until we try it.” I challenge him to provide real numbers, based on reasonable assumptions, which would prove that this is an issue of substantial savings for the taxpayer and not simply the pursuit of a conservative political agenda.

Mayor Tom Henry has rightly vetoed this measure. I urge council members who voted for the measure to rethink their vote and choose the side of excellence and constructive engagement of the city with its employees.

Christopher Guerin is former president of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.

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