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Ind. City Council to Public Workers:
Bye Bye, Collective Bargaining

 

July 11, 2014


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Anti-worker lawmakers in Fort Wayne, Ind., voted June 24 to terminate collective bargaining for 500 public employees in the state’s second largest city..

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Wikimedia user Tysto.


Republican legislators in Fort Wayne, Ind., voted June 24 to terminate collective bargaining for 500 public employees who help maintain services and infrastructure in the state’s second largest city.

 

More than 60 IBEW members working for the Department of Parks and Recreation are now stripped of their right to representation, said Local 723 Business Manager Bruce Getts.

“The full gravity of this remains to be seen, but we believe this move is simply a precursor to lawmakers privatizing all of Fort Wayne’s services,” said Getts, who has negotiated members’ contracts with the city for nearly two decades.

The IBEW members perform electrical work, plumbing, vehicle and equipment repair, heavy equipment operation, tree trimming and other services for the city of 250,000. Other affected city employees are members of the Machinists, the Teamsters, the Operating Engineers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Police and firefighters’ bargaining rights are not affected by the new law.

Trouble for the public workers started last spring when Republican Councilman John Crawford introduced legislation to end collective bargaining for the workers, citing the need to trim expenses. Privatizing services would save Fort Wayne money, Crawford said. Lawmakers voted 6-3 along party lines May 27 for the measure.

That bill was vetoed by Mayor Tom Henry, whose spokesperson told the Associated Press that the proposal was “disappointing” since the city was in good financial shape and is reaping the rewards of new business investments in its downtown region.

“Simply put, I don’t think we deliver better, more affordable city services by attacking the people who deliver those services,” said Henry, a Democrat, in a statement on the city’s website:

I don’t think you win the future with last-century ideas that penalize the very people you’re depending on for new ideas and smarter solutions. I don’t think we build a better Fort Wayne by beating up on the employees who plowed snow for weeks on end without a day off … who turn on a dime to keep us safe.
Take away a worker’s voice and you take away his or her dignity. That’s a poor message when our goal is to have the best and brightest on our team. Besides, it’s just plain wrong.

Two Facebook pages – “People for Collective Bargaining in Fort Wayne” and “We Are Fort Wayne” – sprang up to rally support for the union workers and to raise citizens’ awareness of the issue.

Getts and his fellow Local 723 members got active, too. “We put feet on the street,” he said. “We also presented to the council petitions with more than 8,000 signatures from citizens against the measure.”

Ignoring the petitions, the council again voted along party lines to override the mayor’s veto.

Getts said that Republican lawmakers were influenced by the American City County Exchange, a new initiative of the anti-worker American Legislative Exchange Council. ACCE posted an article to its Facebook page May 29 referencing the city council vote with the comment “Ft. Wayne leads the way.”

In Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida and beyond, ALEC has left its fingerprints on nearly all laws in the past three years designed to dismantle employees’ gains at the bargaining table. The spinoff group creates a conduit between large corporations and city and county legislators to draft so-called “model legislation” to benefit company interests – often at the expense of public employees.

ACCE’s website promotes the organization as “America’s only non-partisan, free-market forum for village, town, city and county policymakers.”

Getts said that labor leaders and union activists in Indiana and beyond should see this as a potential harbinger of things to come at the city and county level.

“This isn’t about saving money, it’s about busting unions,” he said. “These lawmakers bullied everyone – the mayor, the public and us. It was one of those things where they just did it because they could.”

Getts and other worker advocates are exploring their options on ways to potentially continue to represent employees in front of city management. “But this vote is a forewarning for union activists and those who support public employees to get out in front of these kinds of laws if they see them coming,“ he said.

 

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