Indiana city moves to end collective bargaining

AP News
Posted: May 28, 2014 8:03 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana's second-largest city is poised to end collective bargaining with all city employees except police officers and firefighters under a measure a union official said Wednesday is being pushed by "far-right politicians" to the detriment of hundreds of hard-working public employees.

The Fort Wayne City Council voted 6-3 along party lines Tuesday night to approve the proposal sponsored by Republican Councilman John Crawford, who said ending collective bargaining will save the city of nearly 260,000 residents large sums of money in the years ahead.

The vote was enough to override any veto by Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry. Spokesman John Perlich said the mayor does plan to veto but is hoping some council members will change their minds before they vote again in two weeks.

The measure would stop contract negotiations with six unions that represent non-public safety workers.

Crawford said exactly how much the northeastern Indiana city could save won't become clear until after the ordinance is approved and has been in place for some time.

"Everybody who's done it has saved a lot of money. You don't know how much until you do it," Crawford said Wednesday, citing the example of Wisconsin, which stripped most public workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights in 2011.

The Republican-dominated General Assembly in 2011 banned union contracts involving state employees — a step then-Gov. Mitch Daniels implemented by executive order the day after he took office in 2005.

David Patterson, an Indianapolis-based spokesman for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said no Indiana city has ended collective bargaining with their public employees. He said union public workers are economical and provide a higher quality of service than employees for private companies who perform the same type of job.

"This would be an unfortunate first for public employees in Indiana," Patterson said Wednesday.

The Association of Indiana Cities and Towns, which represents 470 municipalities, does not keep track of which ones have collective bargaining for their employees, said Jennifer Simmons, the group's deputy director and chief operating officer.

Crawford said union public employees receive between 10 percent and 20 percent more in wages and benefits than non-union workers, based on his comparison of Fort Wayne's unionized workers with Allen County's non-union employees.

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"We have birthday pay, we have perfect attendance pay — we have things that you will never, ever find in the private sector," Crawford said.

Patterson said opponents of collective bargaining distort the truth to help push their agenda.

"It's a new trend with far-right politicians. It's partisan politics at the expense of hard-working public employees," he said.

The council is expected to take a second vote on June 10.

Perlich, the mayor's spokesman, said the collective bargaining proposal is "disappointing" because Fort Wayne is in good financial health and is experiencing significant investments in its downtown and neighborhoods.

"We feel that we've been pulled into this divisive issue that really is not necessary in our view," Perlich said. "We want to make sure our employees are treated fairly and are treated well."

He said the ordinance would affect about 575 employees. Nearly 800 public safety union employees would not be affected.