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Firefighters win 3-year contract

City Council also approves 2 percent raises

City firefighters have a new contract as well as a raise.

But in the process of granting those, Fort Wayne City Council members also implemented a “right to work” law for Fort Wayne employees Tuesday night.

During discussions over the firefighters’ contract, Mitch Harper, R-4th, proposed an ordinance stating the city could not make membership in a union or labor organization a requirement of employment.

That ordinance comes on the heels of the council’s controversial vote last month that ended collective bargaining with all unions for city employees who are not firefighters or police.

Harper’s ordinance passed by a vote of 6-2. Geoff Paddock, D-5th, and Glynn Hines, D-6th, opposed the legislation.

Russ Jehl, R-2nd, was absent.

“We’re now a right-to-work municipality,” Harper said after the meeting. “That’s the takeaway from this.”

Indiana already has a right-to-work law in place, but it does not apply to public safety workers.

Some council members voiced concern over parts of Harper’s ordinance, with John Crawford, R-at large, wanting to add a provision that guaranteed employees would not be denied benefits if they were not a part of a union.

Crawford’s attempts to get that wording added failed.

Afterward, the council approved the firefighter’s contract.

The previous contract with Fort Wayne Professional Fire Fighters Union Local No. 124 expired Dec. 31.

The new three-year contract approved by the council gives firefighters 2 percent raises each year of the agreement, with the 2014 raises being paid retroactively.

Marty Bender, R-at large, tried to introduce an ordinance that would eliminate taxpayer money going to the salaries of union officials.

That ordinance would have put the jobs of Jeremy Bush, the firefighter’s union president, and Sofia Rosales-Scatena, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, up in the air.

Bender previously said he felt taxpayer dollars should not go to “paying (someone) to be a union president instead of being out there fighting fires.”

Bush appeared before the council during the meeting with a breakdown of the work he performs as union president; he estimated that about 10 percent of his time in that role is spent on bargaining issues.

The council deadlocked 4-4 on introducing Bender’s ordinance, causing it to fail.

Bender and Bush met briefly after the meeting, shaking hands as Bender said, “I hope you understand.”

“Was I worried?” Bush said of Bender’s ordinance. “Yeah, I was a little worried.”

Bush was much more jovial over his union’s new contract, for which several council members said he had worked tirelessly with them to finalize.

“We’re ecstatic,” Bush said.

A contract with the police union is still being ironed out and finalized, Safety Director Rusty York told the council during the meeting.

But with the firefighters’ contract finalized and the collective bargaining talk beginning to die down, some council members looked relieved after the meeting.

“Hopefully, we’ll have some easy issues now,” Crawford quipped at the end of the session.

jeffwiehe@jg.net

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