Hot mic catches common council members discussing negotiations with South Bend firefighters

NOW: Hot mic catches common council members discussing negotiations with South Bend firefighters

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Two South Bend Common Council members are unknowingly caught on camera discussing negotiations with the union representing South Bend firefighters, Local 362.

Before Monday’s South Bend Common Council meeting, councilmembers Rachel Tomas Morgan and Eli Wax discussed the decision to approve a 2.25% raise for firefighters, even though non-bargaining city employees will get a 2.5% salary increase. They unknowingly were being broadcast over the city’s virtual meeting options.

“I don't want to punish the firefighters. But next time get [a deal] done,” Wax said to Morgan. “It’s the old school slap on the wrist. It’s not to hurt you.”

Not realizing they were being live-streamed, in a video still posted to the City Clerk’s YouTube page as of Tuesday evening, Councilman Wax commented on SBFD’s representation in negotiations.

“If they had different representation, that would start at a different place, they might get a different response,” Wax said.

Then council attorney Robert Palmer picks up the conversation.

“The firefighters are going to be punished this year, but hopefully they learn their lesson and make up for it next year,” Palmer said.

In a statement, vice president of Local 362 Ryan Takacs told ABC57 the group is “disappointed”. Local 362 says it wants raises to make the South Bend Fire Department more competitive with other stations, and so pay is on par with police salaries.

“We shouldn’t be punished for asking for an increase that gets us there,” Takacs said in a statement to ABC57.

Palmer admitted, not knowing he was on camera, the city may have initially low-balled firefighters.

“My personal opinion was the city’s original offer was ridiculous,” Palmer said.

Palmer also stated he thinks the union should have accepted more-recent counter offers.

“They basically let it go because they were too stubborn to sit down and talk,” Palmer said.

“It’s getting harder and harder for people to swallow pride, I guess, to find a way forward,” Tomas Morgan replied.

In a telephone interview with ABC57, councilmember Tomas Morgan said approving Monday’s salary ordinance guarantees higher wages for SBFD while still incentivizing the city and Local 362 to reach an agreement. Wax told ABC57 he still hopes to see an agreement with a more substantial raise for fire personnel. Tomas Morgan and Wax are not part of the negotiating process for firefighter pay and benefits.

The city still has until the end of the week to ratify an agreement with Local 362.

Full statement from Local 362:

South Bend Firefighters Local 362 is obviously disappointed with the comments that were caught on video yesterday evening. We believe we are deserving of a wage increase that puts us in a better position to remain competitive in the state, and allows us to remain on equal footing with the other public safety entity in our city. We shouldn’t be punished for asking for an increase that gets us there. Those aren’t sky high expectations. We believe it is fair. We also understand that people make mistakes and sometimes those include off-handed comments, and are confident that we will have the city and council support as we move towards a resolution on these negotiations. We look forward to getting back to the table for discussion and continuing to serve the great residents of our city with pride and professionalism.

- Ryan Takacs, Vice President, Local 362

Statement from Mayor James Mueller on negotiations with Local 362:

"We have a great fire department, and I would like to see higher wage increases than what passed last night. The city team is hopeful that additional dialogue will lead to a more competitive compensation package."

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