Unresolved labor issues could jeopardize approval in years to come
With a word of warning about next year, the board of the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority on Wednesday approved the administration’s five-year plan, insuring that state funds will continue to flow for the next fiscal year.
Board members worried about the fact Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration has not reached contract agreements with any of the city’s major unions — including the firefighters’ union — and said if that remained the case next year, the plan would have difficulty getting PICA approval.
“Six years to go without a labor contract is a long time,” said board president Sam Katz. “The city’s consistent position of assuming that labor outcosts would have zero impact on the overall operating cost of the city continues to be major concern that builds up over time.”
If the administration is unable to sign contracts by next year, Katz said, he will be unable to support any kind of five-year plan.
“Next year if it’s still unresolved, I’m not going to support the five-year plan,” he said.
Still, the board approved the plan with a 4-1 vote.
Board member Sam Hopkins voted against it, saying he thought the amended plan “would haunt us for many years.”
He declined to elaborate on his specific objections adding, “It is not, in my view, reasonable.”
Last month, the board delayed a vote on the five-year plan so members could study amendments provided after PICA asked the administration to provide greater detail as to how the city would deal with the possibility that the city’s firefighters get a raise that was part of a recent contract award.
The 16-page response from the administration included a range of cuts going as high 5 percent for each department and amounting to a $260 million total. It included the elimination of 380 positions — including more than 100 firefighters — but did not include any cuts to the police department.
Hopkins said he was not satisfied with the city’s response.
“It has a list of cuts, which is just a list, it’s not incorporated into the plan in any way,” he said. “And, I don’t think it’s proper that is should be accepted as such.”
The firefighters’ union is battling the city over an arbitration award — decided in July — that gives firefighters raises totaling 9 percent over a four-year term that is set to end in just few weeks. The city appealed the ruling in court. But if the award stands, it would cost the city $200 million.
The battle over the contract, which ends in 2013, has gone on for Nutter’s entire term, and continues as firefighters prepare to enter negotiations for their next contract.
“We’re disappointed in this decision, but it had to be done,” said Bill Gault, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 22.
Gault said the plan was flawed, and that the city has the funds to pay for raises, but simply won’t do so.
“For them to put forth a budget that has no raises for nine years, it’s fiction,” he said. “There’s money. We’ve proved there’s money.”
The firefighters’ union is not the only union feuding with the administration.
Neither of the city’s municipal unions has contracts with the city. After a one-year extension at the start of Nutter’s term, both have been working without contracts.
If PICA fails to approve a five-year plan, the state can cut off as much as $300 million a year in state funds.