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Stripped of Collective Bargaining, Fort Wayne Workers Find Grievances Difficult to Pursue

Council Schoaff has introduced legislation to semi-restore workers rights

Councilman Shoaff has introduced legislation to semi-restore workers rights

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Fort Wayne councilman John Shoaff has introduced a bill to restore some of the powers stripped from city workers when the city council ended collective bargaining last year.  While Shoaff’s ordinance will not restore collective bargaining per se, it will restore workers’ rights to join a union (without making it mandatory).  The ordinance would also establish a new grievance procedure that allows parties to appeal the decisions of a three-person council and send it to binding arbitration.  

Speaking to WANE 15, Shoaff explained the grievance portion of the proposed ordinance:

“It will provide for what we think is a fair grievance procedure. It fills a void that workers feel was left when they lost collective bargaining last year.  We should remember [the repeal of collective bargaining] was carried through by our Republican friends, primarily because it would help the finances of the city. What we’re talking about here is very little in the way of financial implications, so I would hope a number of my Republican colleagues would agree with us that this is a fair redress for employees and an opportunity for them to get back some of what they lost last year.”

Language in the ordinance would make the cost of going to arbitration with a third party shared.

Earlier this month, workers from the city’s Parks Department told the city council that new policies imposed on them were unfair.  Many of them argued that without a union they had little recourse.  John Wood, a heavy equipment worker with the Parks Department, explained the policies in question:

“We’re not allowed to stop to get something to eat. That hasn’t changed from before, but now we can’t go back to the nearest facility to warm up, clean our hands or use the restroom or anything. If we decide we need to use the restroom, we need to call over the radio or contact a supervisor and ask permission. It makes employees feel like we’re back in kindergarten. You can’t get overtime if you used a vacation or personal day. They’re using minimum guidelines from state and federal labor laws.”

Wood said that after the new policies were released they went to their bosses to ask questions, but received no response.  The workers then went to the city council, but received only “subpar” answers.  Wood argues that if they were still in a union many of these issues could be taken care of easily.

“We followed the chain of command to a dead end road.We had a meeting at which employees were treated hostilely and we were at a dead end,” Wood said. “If we had unions, this is what would have been handled by unions and city council would have been left out of this. But, city council seemed to be the only avenue we had left.”

Shoaff’s proposed ordinance would help in situations such as this.  It has a long, intensely partisan road ahead.


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