Fort Wayne council debates limits on city unions

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) - Hundreds of Fort Wayne city workers and others booed at times as City Council members discussed proposals to scale back or eliminate collective bargaining for city employees.

Republican Councilman John Crawford said during Tuesday night’s meeting the proposals to stop contract negotiations with unions would reduce spending in Indiana’s second-largest city.

“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.”

The proposals sponsored by Crawford include one to eliminate collective bargaining with all nine unions that represent city workers, with another only continuing contract talks with unions representing public safety workers such as police officers and firefighters.

Democratic Mayor Tom Henry has said he would veto any of the proposals, while Republicans could use their 6-3 council majority to override such action, The Journal Gazette and the News-Sentinel reported.

Former Democratic Councilman Tim Pape, who represented Henry at Tuesday’s meeting, said the city’s budget is balanced, it has a cash reserve, and that $16.8 million in savings have been achieved since 2008 with the help of employees.

“This is the wrong path you’re on,” Pape told council members. “You don’t get the best people by paying the bottom rate.”

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

Crawford maintained that members of public-sector unions earn up to 20 percent more than non-union workers in similar jobs.

Fort Wayne Community Schools board President Mark GiaQuinta, who represented city unions at the meeting, argued that comparing city employees’ pay with that of non-union Allen County employees is misleading because city employees work 40 hours a week to 37.5 for county workers.

GiaQuinta said Crawford “wants to get rid of the unions and went out to get the statistics that make his case.”

The crowd at Tuesday’s meeting spilled into two overflow rooms, with someone shouting “We’re taxpayers too!” when Republican Councilman Russ Jehl said the council must look out after taxpayers first.

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

“My contention has never been that the city is not doing well,” he said. “The contention has always been that we can do even better without collective bargaining.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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