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Last updated: Wed. May. 21, 2014 - 04:57 pm EDT

Debate heats up on divisive proposals

Council hears presentations on collective bargaining

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FORT WAYNE — The City Council continued its debate over the future of collective bargaining for city workers Tuesday night with dueling presentations on the contentious issue.

The council chambers in Citizens Square were again filled to capacity, with two other rooms used to hold the overflow as hundreds of pro-union workers crowded in, cheering statements they agreed with and booing those they didn’t.

“I have never been witness to more heartfelt debate in my life,” said Geoff Paddock, D-5th. But that debate needs to continue with much more study, he said: “We had a task force for snow removal, and I think this is a little more important.”

Former City Councilman Tim Pape gave a presentation on behalf of Mayor Tom Henry and immediately won big applause from the crowd by saying that if any of the three ordinances proposed were to pass, Henry would veto them.

John Crawford, R-at large, and Russ Jehl, R-2nd, proposed the bills:

•One eliminates collective bargaining for all nonpublic safety employees;

•The second option eliminates collective bargaining rights for the six nonpublic safety unions and replaces them with two unions created by the city – one for City Utilities workers and another for civil city employees;

•The third proposal would eliminate all nine unions, including those for police and firefighters. Only Crawford is proposing the third option.

Six of nine council members would have to vote to override a mayoral veto; the council has six Republicans, who generally oppose collective bargaining. Council President Marty Bender, R-at large, is a Fort Wayne deputy police chief but said he does not plan to abstain.

“I’m not a union member, I’ve never been a union member, so I will not be abstaining from this vote,” Bender said. “I just want everyone to know that.”

During his presentation, Pape said that the city government routinely wins awards and has an incredibly productive workforce, despite stagnant pay and large benefit cuts.

“You stick with what works, and what works is working together,” Pape said. “(Ending collective bargaining) is a step backward. This is the wrong path you’re on. … You don’t get the best people by paying the bottom rate.”

Mark GiaQuinta, Fort Wayne Community Schools board president and a former councilman, gave a presentation on behalf of the city unions and said Crawford’s presentation was junk science and snarky.

He said collective bargaining is not about securing wages or benefits other workers don’t enjoy, it is about workers having a seat at the table.

Crawford said his proposals are not an attack on employees, only on the collective bargaining process.

“My contention has never been that the city is not doing well, the contention has always been that we can do even better without collective bargaining,” Crawford said. “Collective bargaining is not a right, it’s a privilege. Collective bargaining is simply a process some people use and some people don’t.”

But GiaQuinta and Pape said Crawford’s presentation cherry-picked facts and figures, such as when it said city workers are paid for sleeping and get their birthdays off with pay. Firefighters are paid for duty shifts, which sometimes include sleeping hours. One of the city’s nine unions negotiated a personal day – which can be used any time – in return for the loss of three paid holidays, GiaQuinta said.

“Those are nice talking points,” GiaQuinta said. “But you have no idea what they gave up to get that.”

Crawford said the proposals are about saving money for the taxpayers. “There is money to be saved here in Fort Wayne,” he said. “I don’t know the exact amount, but you don’t know till you try it.”

Crawford said he expects the council to vote on the proposals next week.

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