Ind. council overrides mayor's veto of paramedic pay increase
Mayor Dave Wood had vetoed a provision that provides $100 and $50 stipends to paramedics in charge during each shift
By Greg Swiercz
South Bend Tribune
MISHAWAKA, Ind. — Without a word of debate Wednesday night, the Mishawaka Common Council overrode a veto by Mayor Dave Wood of a salary ordinance amendment that provides extra compensation for certain public safety workers.
While all city union firefighters and police officers will receive 3.5% raises across the board for 2020, Wood had vetoed a provision that provides $100 and $50 stipends to paramedics in charge during each shift, as well as a one-time $200 reimbursement for health and wellness fees for firefighters.
While Wood said he agrees with the salary increases for police and fire personnel, he complained that his administration was left out of the bargaining process.
An amendment to the 2020 salary ordinance was introduced at the Oct. 21 council meeting. In it, it presented the police and firefighters’ raise, the paramedics’ compensation and the firefighters’ health and wellness stipend.
Wood, addressing the council on that day, said he recognized its authority to set annual salary increases, but he objected to what he termed the wage committee’s “lack of transparency” in involving the city administration in the process.
The issue marked what Wood is calling a change in the collaborative efforts in the past between the city administration and the council bargaining committee in talks with the city’s police and firefighters’ unions.
The council bargaining committee believes it had the right to negotiate with the firefighters’ union, while Wood objected to it, saying the stipends for paramedics in charge of each shift was the responsibility of the city executive.
Gregg Hixenbaugh, D-at large, said on Oct. 21 the council had the authority to establish compensation by ordinance. He added the city had a broad definition of compensation, often negotiating such items as uniforms, equipment allowances and other things.
But in a letter to Dale “Woody” Emmons, council president, dated Oct. 31, Woods issued his first-ever veto of the paramedic compensation and the one-time firefighter health and wellness stipend.
Wood explained lead (in-charge) paramedic compensation for shifts is spelled out in the existing collective bargaining agreement between the city and the Firefighters Union Local 360, which was negotiated last year and runs through Dec. 31, 2121. Any changes in those provisions, Wood said, would have to be done by opening up the contract.
He acknowledged the council has the authority to grant annual salary increases and he said he supports the 3.5% in the amended ordinance. But he said the council’s bargaining committee had a “complete and intentional lack of transparency” for changes that had “yet-to-be-defined consequences on our budget.”
In invoking his veto authority, Wood said, “This is the first, and my hope is, the only time I will be using such a veto.”
But Emmons said after the 7-1 override vote at Wednesday night’s meeting that the council has the authority to set the compensation and wages for the police and firefighters.
Wood said after the meeting he was disappointed on how the matter was handled.
“In my mind it was politically motivated,” he said. “It goes against what we have done with our good practices for the past few years. I have been very transparent with the council, and the council has been good to work with us, and all of a sudden this year’s completely different.”
Republican Mike Bellovich joined the council’s six Democrats to override Wood’s veto.
In the past, Wood said, the city was invited to be part of the discussions. The mayor said while the agreements were struck with the labor unions in early October, he was handed the documents only several hours before the meeting.
And, he said, the council’s actions created what he called a “new compensation level that has management implications.”
“It sends a message to the rest of our employees that certain departments and certain employees are more important than others, and that’s unfortunate.”
All other city employees will receive a 1.5% raise and a one-time stipend of $500.
According to figures provided by Emmons, the police and firefighter raises will mean a $224,000 increase to next year’s budget, while the paramedic compensation will cost an additional $164,000 for 2020. The health and wellness stipends for the firefighters would add another $22,000 to the 2020 budget.
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