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Editorial columns

Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
It was standing room only Tuesday night when City Council overrode a mayoral veto and upheld a ban on collective bargaining for some city workers.

Collective bargaining fight was for the best

During the collective bargaining discussion, much was made of the vote falling along party lines. Collective bargaining debates everywhere turn bitter and divisive, with votes ultimately going along party lines.

In 2011, the right-to-work law in Indiana was marked by Democratic legislators taking flight to Illinois to obstruct any vote. In 2012, the law then passed on a party-line vote. The Fort Wayne 1974 collective bargaining ordinance was passed on an 8-1 Democratic majority party-line vote, and the 2014 vote to repeal was a 6-3 Republican majority vote. Neither party is any more bipartisan than the other when it comes to this issue.

This is not just a Republican issue. Democrat governors in 11 states pushed for collective bargaining reform in 2012 to cut costs. Detroit and bankrupt California cities demonstrate what excesses of collective bargaining can lead to.

We need to remember that during our fiscal policy crisis last year, both parties agreed unanimously that overly expensive health insurance and sick-time policies had built up under collective bargaining. We reduced those benefits, saving $2 million, and avoided employee layoffs and service reductions.

The next financial crisis is on the way with possible elimination of the personal property tax, causing a $12 million shortfall. Actions that maximize our flexibility and cut costs such as eliminating collective bargaining are needed.

The basic facts and arguments to get rid of collective bargaining are irrefutable:

•90 percent of the U.S. workforce does not work under collective bargaining, so it is not required in order to have well-functioning workplaces.

•Unions enjoy a bargaining advantage with it, which is why they fight so hard for it.

•Every place where collective bargaining has been rolled back, such as Indiana and Wisconsin, has found significant efficiencies and cost savings for taxpayers.

But this is not a black-or-white issue. Both sides have their supporting arguments. Council members have received hundreds of messages from citizens both for and against this. It ultimately becomes a judgment on how you weigh all the factors.

Mayor Tom Henry vetoed the ordinance to end collective bargaining for non-public safety unions. But it can be the right decision to override a mayoral veto.

The 1998 smoking ordinance for restaurants was also a divisive fight with bitter attacks, including posters of me as Hitler and personal threats. After it passed 5-4, Mayor Paul Helmke vetoed. Councilman Tom Henry, who initially voted against the smoking ordinance, changed his vote to override the mayor. The veto was overridden 7-2.

I was glad Councilman Henry ultimately agreed on the smoking ordinance and the wisdom of overriding a mayoral veto. That council override was the correct vote scientifically, and now at least 80 percent of Fort Wayne citizens favor the smoking ordinance.

Unfortunately, these discussions degenerate quickly into calling those with whom you disagree stupid and evil. Governor Mitch Daniels was certainly not stupid. When he abolished collective bargaining for state employees in 2005, many services such as the BMV improved. Hundreds of millions of dollars were saved. Citizens must have approved, since he was easily re-elected.

I try to give people the benefit of the doubt that they hold their positions honestly and not out of self-interest or partisan bias. But many of the counter-arguments were shrill and emotional, impugning our motives, with personal attacks and threats thrown in.

One reason many good people do not run for political office is concern about being vilified personally for doing what they think is right. The only reason the Republican City Council members voted for this change is that we sincerely believe it is best for all the citizens of Fort Wayne.

It is disingenuous to attack this council as excessively partisan. In a June 12 editorial, the Journal Gazette praised this council as having “an extraordinary working relationship between the Republican-dominated council and the Democratic administration.” In the last 2 1/2 years, this council has handled many difficult issues in a professional, bipartisan manner.

But, in the blink of an eye, we were attacked as partisan political hacks because we don’t agree on one issue. You can’t have it both ways unless your definition of bipartisanship is agreement on every issue.

The Indiana state legislature regularly has party-line votes, and Congress has them all the time. Since this council has only rarely had party-line votes, we are probably as bipartisan a legislative body as you will find anywhere.

I truly regret and apologize for the stress and fear this has caused for city employees and their families. Now that the debate is over, we pledge to work with the administration to make this new system work well for city employees and the citizens of Fort Wayne.

John Crawford is an at-large member of Fort Wayne City Council. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.