Mayor Tom Henry, surrounded by police officers and two city councilmen, stamped his veto Friday to a right-to-work ordinance affecting city police that City Council passed 6-2 last week.
The ordinance states that the city could not make membership in a union or labor organization a requirement of employment. The council is expected to vote on the mayor’s veto Tuesday.
“To my knowledge, no council member ever talked with the police unions about a plan to amend this ordinance; no warning was given,” Henry said. “I truly believe this is bad governing. This ordinance alienates those who put their lives on the line to keep all of us safe.”
At Henry’s side were councilmen Geoff Paddock, D-5th, and Glynn Hines, D-6th, who had opposed the legislation.
Paddock and Hines were taken by surprise when the amended ordinance came to the table with “no discussion,” Paddock said. “This has a negative effect on the police department and on unions,” he said.
“Morale is down among public safety employees,” Hines said. “They feel they are under attack, collective bargaining is under attack and unions are under attack.”
In order to override the mayor’s veto, six of the nine city council members must vote to do so.
“We have three members who we know are voting against an override of the veto, and are working on one more,” Hines said, speaking for himself and Paddock.
The amended ordinance was implemented in the process of granting a new contract to city firefighters. It came on the heels of the council’s controversial vote last month that ended collective bargaining with all unions for city employees who are not firefighters or police.
Indiana already has a right-to-work law in place, but it does not apply to public safety workers.
Henry said he “openly worked with the firefighters union prior to the recent passage of their contract to eliminate the membership requirement because that is what they requested. Had the police unions asked for this, I would have respected their wishes and could have signed a letter of agreement with them as well.”
Although Mitch Harper, R-4th, who originally proposed the ordinance, was not at the mayor’s news conference Friday, he issued a statement a few hours later, saying the veto sent a message on economic development that is in conflict with Indiana’s pro-growth, pro-employment agenda.
“We need to work positively on policies that show the world we are open for growth and reform. Confident labor organizations do not require agency shop provisions and compulsory dues,” Harper said.
But Sgt. Mitch McKinney, five-year president of the Fraternal Order of Police, disagrees. He was at the veto in support of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which has mandatory membership.
“That $40-a-month dues provide protection for legal issues that might arise with police officers. If they opt out, they will be without protection for negotiations and anything that happens on the street,” McKinney said.
If an officer were to get embroiled in a legal case, he said, attorney fees can run thousands of dollars and part of the union fees go to cover such costs.
McKinney, who describes himself as a “devoted Republican and fiscal conservative,” said the thing that alarms him most about the new rule is that council members are moving outside their circle of responsibility.
“The dollars we are talking about are not tax dollars and do not affect the council or the community,” he said.
The Fraternal Order of Police was not affected by the new city law but have been keeping an eye on the situation, McKinney said. Membership in the Fraternal Order of Police is a choice and reserved for those who have made rank of sergeant or lieutenant. Dues are $15 a month.
Anxiety is high among the staff, said Sofia Rosales-Scatena, president of the PBA.
“This was political and came out of nowhere,” she said. “Staff is wondering why they constantly keep pummeling us.”
“This issue has nothing to do with the taxpayers,” Rosales-Scatena said.
The majority of dues go to cover contracts and legal services, and the PBA also gets involved in charitable fundraisers and events for members, she said.
“The city protects the city’s interests; we protect the officers’ interests,” Rosales-Scatena said.
Every employee – union or non-union – should have the opportunity to negotiate and have dialogue with city officials, Henry said.
“It is unfortunate that the council amended an ordinance that had been tabled for weeks rather than going through the process introduction, discussion and passage,” Henry said. “The approach did not allow taxpayers and public safety personnel, particularly the Fort Wayne Police Department, the opportunity to gain a full understanding of the impact of the council’s decision.”
Harper addressed the alleged oversight, stating that Henry has yet to contact council members regarding the status of ongoing collective bargaining with the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.
“With respect to the language of this bill and the Letter of Understanding the mayor has already signed (with the fire department), both of those came out of the cooperative discussions I had on an engaged and ongoing basis with the firefighters’ representatives,” Harper said.