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Posted on Fri. May. 09, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

City Council members want to end 'inefficiency' of collective bargaining

Crawford, Jehl, say proposals would save money, improve service

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Two City Council members have confirmed that they want to dramatically change or even eliminate city employees' collective bargaining ability.

John Crawford, R-at large, and Russ Jehl, R-2nd, intend to introduce three different ordinances next week, any of which they insist would save taxpayers money and improve efficiency. One would repeal collective bargaining for the city's non-public safety unions, which represent about 500 employees. Another, to be filed by Crawford alone, would eliminate bargaining for the three unions representing about 800 police and fire employees. The third would repeal the current bargaining ordinance for non-safety employees and replace it with a streamlined process, perhaps designating a single bargaining unit for all affected workers.

Crawford and Jehl said they're uncertain if any of the ordinances will pass – especially the one affecting police and fire – but Crawford said this is the time to try because there are no union contracts currently in effect.

“My question is, even if there's a reason public unions seek privileges, there's no compelling reason why the city would want to give above-market wages,” Crawford said.

Six of council's nine members are Republican; it would take six votes to override a veto should Democratic Mayor Tom Henry do so.

Fort Wayne's public safety ordinances primarily began during the administration of Mayor Ivan Lebamoff in the 1970s. But while private-sector unions have “led to many positive steps for both workers and business . . . bargaining for public-sector unions has led to many unintended consequences,” Crawford wrote in a lengthy document explaining his rationale. “Even Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not feel it wise to extend (bargaining) to public-sector unions . . . .In 2005, Gov. (Mitch) Daniels abolished collective bargaining for state employees.”

Noting that the bankruptcy of Detroit was due in part to pensions, wages and other benefits accrued by public unions, Crawford noted that inefficient union practices have also built up in Fort Wayne, including full-time salaries and benefits paid to union presidents for doing union work. That expense is about $200,000 per year, he said. Some union members also receive “birthday pay,” service bonuses, seniority-based raises and other benefits, and city attorneys and managers spend about $133,000 of their time per year dealing with union issues. Compulsory union membership in some areas – engineers, for example, may impede recruitment, he added.

What's more, he said, rigid work rules can also impede productivity – such as one a grievance was filed against a supervisor at the Botanical Garden for picking a weed.

Total union membership in the U.S. has fallen from about 35 percent in 1955 to about 11 percent today, Crawford noted, with just 6.7 percent of the private sector unionized compared to 35.5 percent in the public sector. According to federal statistics, he said, media earnings of unionized government workers is 32 percent higher than local government non-union workers. Allen County government employees are not unionized.

“My first and primary responsibility is to the taxpayer. It is imprudent to provide collective bargaining and to accept all the inefficiencies that come with it, at the toil of the taxpayer,” Jehl said, noting that sewer and water crews are prohibited from assisting one another even though their skills overlap.

Crawford expects the proposals to be controversial, which is one reason why Jehl has been meeting with some union officials prior to introduction.

Sofia Rosales-Scatena, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, which represents 360 rank-and-file police officers, told The News-Sentinel earlier this week that “We haven't had any significant issues, so I'm not sure where this is coming from.” If council does eliminate bargaining rights for non-safety employees, police and fire will be next, she predicted.

Lloyd Osborne, agent for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399, which represents about 150 employees in City Utilities and other departments, expressed similar sentiments. “We hope to find out why . . . they are attacking workers. I'm beside myself. I can't understand it when we've been working with the city to achieve savings,” added Lloyd Osborne, agent for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399, which represents about 150 employees in City Utilities and other departments.

kleininger@news-sentinel.com


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