Steve Shine’s job as Allen County GOP chairman is to get Republicans elected. The task is tougher in city races, where his party doesn’t enjoy the numbers advantage it holds throughout the county.
So it should be no surprise that Shine is offering a proposal to soften the blows Republican City Council members delivered to organized labor rights in recent weeks. It’s an obvious effort to appease blue-collar voters angered by the majority’s swipe at labor, first with a ban on collective bargaining for city workers other than police and firefighters, then with a right-to-work law for all municipal employees.
With city elections coming next year, Shine has reason to be concerned. A conservative, pro-labor political action committee, Lunch Pail Republicans, gave $15,000 to Curt Nisly’s successful effort to defeat Rep. Rebecca Kubacki of Syracuse in the May GOP primary. Comments she made during the General Assembly’s right-to-work debate apparently angered the labor community in her conservative district. In House District 83, Rep. Kathy Heuer lost to a labor candidate, Christopher Judy. Both Kubacki and Heuer voted for right-to-work legislation in 2012, though their losses could be attributed to several other votes as well.
While Shine’s proposal has a political purpose, it also has a practical one.
“I wanted to address what I have heard since this (collective bargaining issue) started,” he said. “It’s about reassuring city workers of being protected in the workplace from any bad management practices that would occur as the result of a manager or supervisor having a bad day and taking it out on an employee. The employees would be protected by an independent panel, so that the city does not work as the judge or jury.”
Shine proposes a grievance board to review charges of unjust discipline or discharge, with binding arbitration. He also recommends a mechanism for labor leaders to communicate with their respective members on city property for union-related matters. Finally, the GOP county chairman proposes the city continue to honor city employees’ authorization of voluntary union dues deduction.
Jeremy Bush, president of Fort Wayne Professional Firefighters Local 124, said he supports Shine’s proposal.
“Our system was working,” he said. “But obviously council changed that. This will go a step back in that direction. This is more about protecting employees from that one supervisor or director who would fire someone on a whim.”
Bush said he believes Shine is taking a “global look” at the issue: “Taxpayers are not going to benefit in any way if we have employees feeling they can be fired at will.”
“I appreciate and respect that everybody has a job to do,” Bush said. “Council members have to look out for taxpayers. Once they take a fair glimpse at this, I truly believe they will do what is right.”
The angry crowds at council meetings and dozens of letters to the editor suggest the Republican members of the council have some fence-mending to do.
Shine’s proposal appears to represent a good-faith effort to demonstrate the union measures weren’t about restricting employee rights but were about promoting good government. Council should run with it.