Labor pains: Unions rally against Mayor Nutter as budget battle begins

Organized labor united Wednesday afternoon in an unprecedented show of solidarity against Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration due to what they say is an unprecedented attack on workers’ rights in Philadelphia.

“We are in a place where the labor movement was born,” said Henry Nicholas, president of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees. “We’re not going to let it die here.”

The move came just a day before Nutter’s annual budget proposal, which officials hope will set aside funds to pay at least some of the city’s long-running union contract disputes.

“The mayor needs to stop holding municipal employees and city firefighters hostage because he cannot collect revenue,” said Cathy Scott, president of municipal white collar union D.C. 47.

Members of D.C. 47 and city blue collar union D.C. 33 have been working without a contract for five years, while firefighters and paramedics represented by IAFF Local 22 have gone without a contract for four years.

In fact, since taking office in 2008, Nutter hasn’t resolved a contract with a single union outside of the state’s legally-mandated third party arbitration process.

“You take away the last bastion of workers rights when you take away collective bargaining,” AFL-CIO Philadelphia Council president Pat Eiding said.

He said the country is currently facing a situation in which non-unionized workers facing economic hardships lack sympathy with organized workers in their fight to retain rights.

“People out there are saying ‘I don’t have a pension. Why should you get one?’ When instead they should be saying, ‘We should all have pensions,’” he said.

“If you have those folks and you give up and you don’t fight, tomorrow they’re going to take away more.”

City Controller Alan Butkovitz said the dispute is no longer just about what rights union workers should have.

“This is about taking away the tools of what we worked out the relationship between labor and management should be.”

 

Contract contention

 

>> AFSCME D.C. 47, which represents about 3,000 white collar city workers. They’ve been without a contract for five years.

>> AFSCME D.C. 33, which represents about 11,000 blue collar city workers. D.C. 33 has also been without a contract for five years.

Nutter last month declared he was at an “impasse” when it came to bargaining with D.C. 33 representatives and petitioned the state Supreme Court for the power to unilaterally impose contract terms on employees.

>> IAFF Local 22, which represents about 2,300 uniformed firefighters and paramedics. Members have gone four years without a contract.

Local 22′s contract award was upheld twice by a neutral arbitration panel and once by a Court of Common Pleas judge, but the Nutter administration continues to appeal, arguing the city simply can’t afford to pay the terms.

Nutter recently appealed the Common Pleas judge’s latest ruling to the state Commonwealth Court.

City officials – most recently City Councilman David Oh – have expressed concerns that the city, which so far appears to be setting no funds aside to pay Local 22′s award, will be slammed with a lump sum payout to compensate for retroactive wages and benefit increases.

Sam Katz of the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority said during last year’s budget negotiations that he would not approve a city budget in 2013 if it did not include some provision to pay for Local 22′s contract.

>> Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents about 60,000 construction workers.

The Building Trades have been engaged in a long battle with developers Post Brothers over the non-union renovation of the Goldtex Apartments at 12th and Wood streets.

Officials charge the Nutter administration told police officers to misdirect union members picketing outside the project so Post Brothers could “sneak a crane” into the site.

>>  Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which represents about 16,000 employees of Philadelphia public schools.

They are protesting what they say is Nutter’s “tacit endorsement” of the School Reform Commission’s recent decision to close 23 city schools, which they feel will erode the quality of public education and lead to more teacher layoffs.

>> Utility Workers of America Local 686, which represents about 1,200 Philadelphia Gas Works employees.

The union is opposed to the Nutter administration’s plan to sell and privatize Philadelphia Gas Works due to fears of job loss.

 

Budget block?

 

Members of both municipal and private-sector unions plan to show up in force at City Hall for tomorrow morning’s budget address to let Nutter know exactly what they think.

“The walls are starting to close in on him,” business manager John Dougherty of Local 98 said.

“There’s only one way out, and that’s for him to step up, do the right thing, negotiate and pay the wages owed.”

Nicholas hinted union members may block Council members and other politicians from going inside.

“Since they’re not doing anything for the people, they shouldn’t be able to get in,” he said.

But Eiding said there will be no organized effort to bar entry.

“They’re not going to stop folks – they’re going to go express what they think of the mayor,” he said. “I think everyone just wants to have their voice heard.”

 

Nutter responds

 

Nutter’s press secretary Mark McDonald said the city has reached an “impasse” with D.C. 33 after attempting to negotiate in good faith.

“We see the union leaders refrain of ‘no’ every time we bring up issues related to reforming the pension system, health care costs and work rules, which they frame as the destruction of the collective bargaining process,” he said.

Nutter feels the contract terms extended by the city are fair.

“With regards to Local 22, we’re doing the very same thing that they have done in the past, which is to appeal elements of an award they don’t like,” McDonald said.

“Just as they have done it on behalf of the taxpayers of Philadelphia, we’re doing it because we believe the award is far in excess of what city taxpayers can afford.”


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