The Herald Bulletin

March 28, 2012

Unions seek to make city government more efficient

By Sam Brattain
The Herald Bulletin

— These have not been easy days for local unions. In February Indiana became the 23rd state to become a right to work state.

With the passage of House Bill 1001, unions are prohibited from forcing workers to join or pay dues and fees to a labor union. The bill was mired in controversy, which included a walkout by many democratic legislators during last year's session.

While the Indiana legislature passed other notable bills such as the statewide smoking ban, and elimination the inheritance tax, HB 1001 received the most attention.

“It probably will have the biggest impact on cities and towns,” Anderson Fraternal Order of Police President Scott Calhoun said.

Calhoun said the bill makes it harder for workers to obtain a working wage.

“Most of the jobs coming into the city only pay $8 to $10 an hour,” he said.

In January a call center for TeleServices Direct opened in the Flagship business park. The company announced center could create 180 jobs for the city, however pay would range from $10 to $15 an hour.

Trinna Davis, president of UAW 1963, said right to work will not impact city and county employees, since public institutions can not require union membership as a requirement of employment. The ensuing debate over unions, however, has caused misconceptions she said.

“People think (union workers) make a lot of money, but the UAW has members that qualify for public assistance,” Davis said.

Davis believes public employees have not been a high priority of either county or city governments, who have chose to spend money wastefully on lawsuits and contracted expenditures instead.

“We just want to survive, on those wages it’s hard,” Davis said.

Calhoun’s FOP also went through some turmoil last year. Last September the city council denied the police department their request to hire more officers to satisfy its contract with the FOP.

In a 7-2 vote the council voted to decrease the department’s budget, preventing them from reaching the 120 officer minimum set forth by the FOP. Calhoun has filed a grievance with the city.

Just years prior, Calhoun said the department was operating with 132 officers, however under mayor Kevin Smith, a former APD officer, the department’s manpower was decreased to 120.

Following a string of retirements, Calhoun said the department is down to 118 officers, with former mayor Kris Ockomon being the newest addition.

“What it all comes down to is reduced manpower means reduced services,” he said.

Tax dollars have become harder and harder to come by for all city departments, Calhoun said.

“In the 80s it was not uncommon to have $100,000, sometimes $1 million, left over in the budget to be used as a rainy day fund. Ever since that rollover has decreased and decreased,” he said.

While unions are not happy about the loss of revenue, Calhoun believes they have come a long way in civility.

“Unions in Anderson are not about fist banging and yelling, we have evolved into a better labor group. If you bankrupt your employer you’re not going to get paid,” he said.

Contact Sam Brattain at 640-4883, sam.brattain@heraldbulletin.com