FORT WAYNE — City Council members voted along party lines Tuesday to override Mayor Tom Henry’s veto of the new prohibition on collective bargaining for city employees who are not police or firefighters.
The council voted this month to stop negotiating with the unions representing about 500 city employees. Another 750 employees are in the three police and fire unions, which are exempt from the new ban, and about 550 workers are not unionized.
In a statement issued after the vote, Henry called the move disappointing and unnecessary.
“At a time when we’re experiencing unprecedented momentum in the city of Fort Wayne by working together, six members of City Council decided to lead a divisive effort to hurt award-winning city employees and send a message to our residents and businesses that their philosophy on unions means more than investing in our future, attracting and retaining jobs, and being a leader in quality of life and neighborhood enhancements,” the mayor said.
“There’s nothing sacrosanct about a mayoral veto,” said John Crawford, R-at large, who, along with Russ Jehl, R-2nd, authored the proposal. “It doesn’t mean there will automatically be a wage reduction, it doesn’t mean there will automatically be benefit cuts. It just means we have a new system.”
After weeks of impassioned pleas by union members not to take away their bargaining rights, Crawford apologized for the emotional distress.
“I truly regret all the stress and fear this has caused,” he told the audience, largely made up of people in union T-shirts. “But I truly believe that when this blows over it won’t be as bad as you suspect.”
All six Republicans – Crawford; Jehl; Tom Smith, R-1st; Tom Didier, R-3rd; Mitch Harper, R-4th; and Marty Bender, R-at large – were in favor of ending collective bargaining; all three Democrats – Geoff Paddock, D-5th; Glynn Hines, D-6th; and John Shoaff, D-at large – opposed it, and Tuesday’s vote to override Henry’s veto fell along the same lines.
Henry, a Democrat, vetoed the move, but a mayoral veto can be overridden with six votes.
Almost immediately after the vote, the debate continued: Five contracts with city unions had already been negotiated and agreed to this year and have been waiting for council approval. In an effort to make a political point, Henry’s administration proposed them for introduction, which starts the debate-and-approval process – even though the question was moot for four of them after the override vote. The fifth contract is for city firefighters exempt from the ban on collective bargaining.
Council Attorney Joe Bonahoom said the four contracts were now illegal and that the ordinances ratifying them should not be introduced because the council cannot approve them.
“But I can’t vote for you,” Bonahoom said. “I can only advise you, and you can override my opinion.”
Council members voted 5-4 against introducing them, with Harper joining Democrats in favor of introduction. He said his vote was to protest the measures being voted on at all. Since the four bills failed to win introduction, they are considered dead, and only the firefighters’ contract will move forward.
Most of the large crowd packing council chambers left after the vote, but about two dozen people stayed for public comment.
James Hoy, a heavy equipment operator for the city, said collective bargaining leveled the playing field between management and employees.
“Do you have no hearts,” Hoy asked council members, “or are you just puppets on a string?”