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Fort Wayne City Council votes to move toward removing ban on collective bargaining for non public-safety city employees

Rebecca Green
File Photo: WBOI News

Fort Wayne city employees could soon start discussions about union representation and could be getting raises after a series of votes at Tuesday night’s city council meeting.

The city’s legislative body unanimously approved a new pay structure for employees that supporters said will allow the city to pay employees more competitive wages.

Following that vote, Lloyd Osborne, a representative of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 399, proposed lifting Fort Wayne’s ban on collective bargaining for city employees who are not public safety employees. Osborne said the ban was hurting city employee morale.

“A lot of them, not all of them, but a lot of them say they feel like second class citizens,” Osborne said.

Osborne said city employees are not comfortable going to their supervisors to address workplace grievances without union representation out of fear of getting fired.

The ban was enacted nine years ago as a cost saving measure for the city. It only impacted city employees outside of public safety because firefighters and police officers already have their own unions, which Councilwoman Sharon Tucker, (D, 6th), brought up as a reason to restore collective bargaining rights.

“We have to create a space for them to feel free to be able to come and say ‘hey this is what’s happening to me in the workplace’ without fear of losing their employment,” Tucker said. “That, to me, is part of making sure our overall package of employment is a solid employment, and you guys believe it because you believe it for the fire, and you believe it for the police, and I’m having a hard time wondering why it’s such a challenge for our non safety staff.”

Of the council members who were part of that vote nine years ago, the only "yes" vote still on the council is Councilman and Republican mayoral candidate Tom Didier (R, 3rd) who maintained his support of banning collective bargaining.

He said collective bargaining for city staff outside of public safety puts too much of a burden on taxpayers because they are forced to pay for those services through their taxes. He also said collective bargaining is not the best way to address workplace grievances.

Didier called on Mayor Tom Henry to do more.

“It sounds like he hasn’t wanted to talk for nine years, and I’m not sure if that’s going to be the process in the future,” Didier said.

Henry said his administration has policies in place that task the city’s Human Resource and Law Departments with handling workplace grievances, and Henry said he keeps the door open for employees to go to him directly.

“If they feel they’ve got no place else to go, they can certainly get hold of me, and some have, and we’ve been able to address the situation,” Henry said. “So, the accusation that there’s irregularities going on in the workforce and nothing’s being done about it. It’s hard for me to address that complaint unless somebody does step up.”

The measure to lift the ban passed six to two with Councilman Tom Freistroffer (R, at-large) joining Didier in voting no.

“The city’s got a system in place,” Freistroffer said. “No system is perfect. I will continue to look into this, but I’m going to vote no on this tonight.”

Council members who supported the measure to lift the ban said the vote does not guarantee the city will enter into a collective bargaining agreement. It just opens the door for more conversations on solutions to workplace grievances. A collective bargaining agreement would have to be negotiated, and so far, no such negotiations are being planned.

Tony Sandleben joined the WBOI News team in September of 2022.