The city of Philadelphia yesterday filed a state Supreme Court decision asking it to immediately take over the case deciding whether Mayor Michael Nutter can impose what he calls a "final offer" of contract terms on municipal blue collar union AFSCME D.C. 33.
The city on Friday filed a similar petition in Common Pleas Court, but Nutter said in a statement that he's "certain that any decision there will ultimately be appealed to the state Supreme Court," so he wants to speed up the process.
"Since this matter is of such pressing public consequence to city employees and taxpayers locally, as well as public employers throughout the Commonwealth, we are asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in today’s filing to assume jurisdiction immediately over this matter,” he said yesterday.
In a press conference on Friday, Nutter said he presented his proposed "final offer" to D.C. 33 officials on Jan. 16 and gave them two weeks to accept the terms.
"It was a very good offer – pay raises for public employees and pension reform for taxpayers and more," he said.
"Unfortunately, union leaders rejected our final offer as they have rejected every other proposal that addressed furloughs, pensions and costs related to overtime calculations."
The proposed contract restores employee step and longevity increments and provides for a 2.5 percent wage increase within 30 days and a 2 percent raise on Jan. 1, 2014.
In return, it demands concessions that include the power for the city to furlough workers – that is, compel them to take unpaid days off – for up to three weeks out of each year, reduced pensions for new hires and an increase in employee contributions for current workers and reformed work rules that would change the way overtime is calculated.
"We are no closer to agreement today than we were four years ago," Nutter said on Friday. "Well, here’s what I have to say about all of this: the deadlock has gone on long enough. Union leaders have held our public employees and taxpayers hostage to their 'Just say No' campaign, and we can’t let this stranglehold continue."
Unlike uniformed city unions workers like firefighters and paramedics Local 22 – which is fighting its own contract battle with City Hall – non-uniformed unionized employees can legally strike, but cities in the past have obtained court injunctions to stop them.
At the same time, a state Supreme Court ruling in the 1990s set a legal precedent dictating that municipal employers can't unilaterally impose contract terms on workers. Nutter is now seeking to overturn that precedent.
"The union is holding taxpayers and public employees of the city hostage despite the city’s offer of increased wages and the city’s need for the reforms that it seeks in the negotiations,” the city wrote in its Supreme Court filing.
The combination of legal decisions has resulted in a stalemate between municipal unions like D.C. 33 and the city, who are each unwilling to compromise further on contract terms but find their hands largely tied when it comes to reasonable actions they can take to move the process forward.
"The last [wage] increase these employees received was in July 1, 2007," Nutter said of the approximately 11,000 city workers represented by D.C. 33, noting that it has been five years and seven months since they received a pay raise. "The best we can tell, that is the longest in modern history."