Unanimous resolution calls on mayor to resolve three-year dispute
Increasing the pressure on Mayor Michael Nutter, City Council on Thursday, March 22, unanimously passed a resolution urging the mayor to end a three-year standoff with the city’s municipal workers and “negotiate a fair contract.”
“City workers deserve a fair contract,” said Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr., the resolution’s sponsor. “Our workers have sacrificed — and that should be acknowledged.”
The vote was met with the enthusiastic foot stomping and yelling of several hundred members of the city’s two municipal worker unions — American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, district councils 33 and 47 — who jammed chambers for the second time in less than a month.
Non-uniformed city workers have been working without a new contract since 2009.
Disagreements on wages, work rules, healthcare and pension benefits have stymied negotiations.
In the most recent round of talks, administration officials proposed increasing healthcare costs by a percentage based on the city’s increased costs. The city also proposed a 2.5 percent wage increase for fiscal years 2013 and 2014. In terms of pension benefits, the city wants to set up a dual pension plan; one for senior employees and another for employees hired after a certain date.
The unions have rejected them all.
Goode, when he introduced the resolution on March 8, declined to say whether his union support extended to budgeting for raises, or where he stood on the benefits package.
“This resolution is in support of a fair contract,” he said. “I think there should be a negotiated contract. The resolution does not deal with raises or benefits specifically.”
Negotiations are conducted by the administration, outside Council’s authority. Goode said this week that his resolution was needed because talks have stalled.
“When asked. ‘Why would City Council inject itself into contract negotiations?’ I ask, “What negotiations?” Goode said.
Over the last several weeks, union officials — through television advertisements and speaking at Council — have been pressing Nutter to reach an agreement.
Pete Matthews, president of District Council 33 and Catherine Scott, president of District Council 47, both blasted Nutter this week in City Council.
Both ran down a list of numbers that they contend represent the savings unions have provided to the city — a figure they estimate amounts to $415 million.
“We all know the mayor wants to be a dictator,” Matthews said. “But, we are tired of being taken for granted. Let the mayor hear this loud and clear: We will not make concessions.”
The mayor has repeatedly said he’s ready to sign a “fair contract” — a point that his spokesman, Mark McDonald, made again Thursday.
“We are in the midst of negotiations,” said McDonald, noting several things, including the fact that a resolution is non-binding and that District Council 33 is in the midst of an election. “[Matthews’] comments should be filtered or looked at in terms of some of these other factors.”
As for the number union officials contend they’ve saved, McDonald said they were difficult to believe.
“It’s hard to give any of it any credence whatsoever,” he said. “They’re saying that they saved the city money … they didn’t do it. It was their intransigence in matters related to essential reforms that the administration is pursuing. It is their unwillingness to think to the future that has prevented the signing of a contract.”
The administration seems to be gaining some momentum in its stance with the unions after an arbitration ruling, handed down Wednesday, forced the union that represents prison guards within District Council 33 to accept changes in their benefits packages.
The ruling, which covers 2,000 prison guards, gives them a 2.5 percent raise this year and next year along with a bonus. But, it also requires new hires to enter a hybrid pension plan along the lines of a 401k, as opposed to the city’s traditional defined benefit plan.
“The arbitrators clearly understand the dire fiscal circumstances the city has been facing for some time,” said Nutter Wednesday.
In other news, Councilman Mark Squilla introduced legislation that would freeze property tax millage rates and assessments at current levels. The city is in the process of moving to property tax bills based on market values, but Squilla said Council, which sets the millage rates, does not have the information it needs to move ahead with plans this year.
“My mother always told me ‘never dive into water when you can’t see the bottom’ and you know what this is what we’re doing,” he said.
Administration officials realize the transition is going to be difficult, McDonald said.
The city will have all the information it needs by October, he said, when new assessments should go out to residents, and that if it does not proceed the city could face litigation.
“Whatever year it was going to happen we would face this kind of problem,” McDonald said, then quoting Nutter he added. “It’s time to bite the bullet.”
Finally, Council passed two resolutions introduced by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown. The first asked the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority to stop using stickers on transpasses that note the gender of the user.
Brown contends, along with many members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, that doing so can prove embarrassing for transgender people using public transit.
SEPTA officials defend the use of stickers as way to cut down on fraud.
In the second resolution, Council urged the state legislature to pass a bill creating a state hotline for victims of human trafficking. If approved, the law would require signs in truck stops, massage parlors, strip clubs, hotels, motels and agricultural facilities that provide victims with a 1-800 number where they can seek help.