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City unions preparing for collective-bargaining battle

Fear City Council wants to strip them of power to negotiate

Tuesday, May 6, 2014 - 12:01 am

Unions representing city employees say City Council members are bracing for ordinances they fear could strip them of the right to collectively bargain.

“We're meeting with (2nd District Republican) Russ Jehl Thursday, but I have heard there are three ordinances on the table, and that two of them don't include (public safety unions), said Sofia Rosales-Scatena, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, which represents 360 rank-and file police officers.

Jehl and John Crawford, R-at large, have declined to comment.

But Rosales-Scatena said several inquiries have convinced her that an effort to strip at least civil-service union employees of collective bargaining power is likely. “But (excluding police and fire) is just the tip of the iceberg. Council will start with the others, and we'll be next,” she said.

In addition to about 800 unionized public safety employees, the city has about 1,000 other unionized employees, about half of whom are members of about six unions.

Of City Council's nine members, six are Republicans – the number that would have to support any ordinance in order to override a veto by Democratic Mayor Tom Henry. If the ordinances materialize, it would not be the first time Republicans have tried to tame public-sector unions. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, for example, successfully defended himself against a recall vote in 2012 after curbing some unions' collective bargaining rights.

But Rosales-Scatena said she does not understand why council would even consider such a thing.

“We haven't had any significant issues, so I'm not sure where this is coming from,” said, noting her union is considering a tentative three-year contract calling for annual 2 percent raises – less than it had initially requested.

Lloyd Osborne, agent for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399, which represents about 150 employees in City Utilities and other departments, expressed similar sentiments.

“We hope to find out why they're doing this, what they hope to accomplish, why they are attacking workers. I'm beside myself. I can't understand it when we've been working with the city to achieve savings,” he said.

Allen County employees are not unionized, and generally earn less than their city counterparts.