After an hour long-debate, the Louisville Metro Council approved an ordinance along party lines that exempts union contracts from being subject to mandatory financial reports.
The legislation passed by a 16-9 vote with council Democrats voting in favor, arguing they were supporting public workers and all council Republicans against the bill, arguing the amendment blocks the full cost of negotiated contracts from being known to the taxpayers.
Dozens of union members packed council chambers after a rally Thursday afternoon to voice their support for the ordinance, which council Democrats had said was necessary to combat what they viewed as a GOP effort to undermine public employees similar to the legislation enacted in Wisconsin by Governor Scott Walker.
“I find it amazing we continually act like none of these are connected going on around the country,” Councilman Rick Blackwell, D-12, said during the meeting. “These things are things that led to precisely the first steps of what happened in Wisconsin. It started with negotiations and transparency, followed by tax breaks and then by blaming the workers.”
Financial impact statements show the total cost of the contracts between unions leaders and Metro Government over an entire negotiated deal. But council Democrats who supported the amendment to the ordinance argued the disclosure of those costs would harm collective bargaining deals and requests for it are being used to undermine working families.
The amendment allows the mayor’s office to bypass a law unanimously approved by the council in 2004, which required the financial reports. Mayor Greg Fischer’s administration supports the change, saying the ordinance would allow good faith negotiations between the city and union leaders to continue.
Councilman Jerry Miller, R-19, who has requested the impact statements on two contract negotiations this year,bristled at the charge that the GOP is waging a “war on workers” and says it is offensive and misleading.
“This ordinance would not have been filed in the first place had there not been something to hide. The inference that this is a war on workers is absolutely the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard,” he says. “This isn’t Wisconsin. This is Louisville, Kentucky. What passed in Wisconsin could not have even passed in Madison or Milwaukee because their union towns, we’re a union town.”
Though union members packed City Hall, several residents who addressed the council were split on the issue, and included supporters and opponents of the ordinance.
Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Phil Moffett spoke against the legislation, adding the lack of transparency will foster mistrust between taxpayers and the city.
“You fear a Wisconsin-style reform, you fear transparency. You are driven by the fear that someone will understand what you are doing and expose it. Secrecy breeds suspicion and contempt, and it energizes the curious. Passing this ordinance will eventually bring about the reform you actually fear,” he says.
But Brian O’Neill, a spokesman for the Louisville Professional Firefighters Local 345, says council Republicans were trying to create a problem to undermine collective bargaining.
“This is not about transparency,” he said. “The process works, collective bargaining agreements are negotiated between the mayor’s office and the city. They are brought to the council and are an open book to be checked. The issue at hand is redundancy and the motives of some council members who are trying to add an extra layer of bureaucracy with labor contracts and not others.”