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Council upholds police, fire right-to-work

For the second time in less than a month, the City Council has decided to override a mayoral veto affecting government unions.

On Tuesday, the council voted 6-3 along party lines to keep a right-to-work ordinance for police officers and firefighters.

Last week, Mayor Tom Henry vetoed the ordinance, which allows firefighters and officers to opt out of being in their respective unions without losing their jobs.

Six votes were needed to override the veto. All six came from Republican councilmen John Crawford, Tom Smith, Tom Didier, Russ Jehl, Marty Bender and Mitch Harper.

Democratic Councilmen John Shoaff, Glynn Hines and Geoff Paddock voted against the override. Shoaff had originally voted to pass the ordinance on July 8.

“We’re meddling in (the union’s) private affairs,” Shoaff said during a public discussion before the vote.

Last month, the council overrode Henry’s veto of a new prohibition on collective bargaining for city employees who are not police and firefighters.

The right-to-work ordinance came as a new contract was being hashed out for city firefighters.

At the time, fire union officials told City Council they were confident they would retain all of the firefighters as union members. But the council never discussed the ordinance with the police union.

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Sofia Rosales-Scatena appeared before council during Tuesday’s discussion to voice displeasure over the ordinance and tell the councilmen about the service her union provides.

“We did not see this coming,” she said, adding that the union is close to finalizing its contract with the city.

Harper, R-4th, who sponsored the ordinance, said the law added rights by making an officer’s job not dependent on whether he or she pays union dues.

While city code calls for the termination of officers if they have not paid dues for 30 days, the practice is rarely enforced.

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association provides an attorney for officers involved in critical situations – such as a fatal shooting or a car crash – and has paid about $170,000 in legal fees over the last three years, according to Rosales-Scatena.

Councilman Marty Bender, R-at large, is a deputy chief with the city police department and questioned the need for an attorney since the city itself will provide one for an officer.

Rosales-Scatena said a union lawyer will have the officer’s best interest in mind, while a city attorney might only think of the best outcome for the city.

A union attorney provides officers with an outlet during what is usually a highly volatile time, she said.

“The main thing officers want to do is talk, and the last thing they want to do is talk,” Rosales-Scatena said.

Before the meeting began, it was announced that Harper was likely a no-show.

He walked in, however, a little after roll call and it was his presence that ultimately allowed the Republicans to override the mayor’s veto.

In a statement, Henry called the decision to pass the ordinance in the first place with no chance for input from the police union or the public “unnecessary and unprofessional.”

jeffwiehe@jg.net

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