In challenge to AFSCME, Nutter announces raises for nonunion city workers

Cathy Scott, president of AFSCME District Council 47, characterized the proposal as a pay and benefit cut for nonunionized employees. "It is not something we would accept," she said of her union.
Cathy Scott, president of AFSCME District Council 47, characterized the proposal as a pay and benefit cut for nonunionized employees. "It is not something we would accept," she said of her union. (APRIL SAUL / File Photograph)
Posted: September 27, 2012

Sending a still-combative message to city union leaders after a three-year no-contract standoff, Mayor Nutter announced Wednesday that he would give salary increases to about 5,500 nonunion and supervisory employees while imposing benefit concessions he has been unable to win at the bargaining table.

The leaders of the city's two nonuniformed unions, Herman J. "Pete" Matthews of AFSCME District Council 33 and Cathy Scott of District Council 47, immediately denounced the compensation package as a poorly disguised pay cut. They said it strengthened their resolve to fight the mayor's proposals on pensions, health care, and furlough authority for their 12,400 members.

Historically, the city has negotiated contract terms with D.C. 33 and D.C. 47, and then granted similar increases to nonunion, exempt, and supervisory personnel whose salaries are not subject to collective bargaining.

But after three fruitless years of negotiations without new AFSCME contracts, Nutter reversed the process Wednesday.

He told nonunion and supervisory workers they would get a 2.5 percent pay increase Oct. 1, along with delayed step and longevity increases averaging $2,100 annually for some 2,000 eligible workers.

The salary boosts are coupled, however, with increased employee contributions to pension and health-care accounts, new rules to curtail overtime, new authority to furlough nonunion employees to deal with budget shortfalls, and a proposal to City Council to force new nonunion hires into a less-expensive hybrid pension plan.

With those savings on benefits, the administration projected that the overall package would increase the city's costs by $17 million over the next five years, less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the city's projected spending.

In announcing the compensation package, Nutter took a shot at the AFSCME leaders.

"It is unfair to deny compensation improvements to one group simply because union leaders representing nonuniformed employees decline to act in the interests of current and future employees and taxpayers," he said.

The union leaders shot back.

"When you get into the details, the employees are paying out more than what they're supposed to receive," Matthews said.

"Shame on the mayor for doing this to 5,000 hardworking employees who have already gone four years without a pay increase," Scott said. "What the mayor is imposing, like a thief in the night and solely at his whim, is a pay and benefit cut . . . for the vast majority of [these] city employees. It is not something we would negotiate. It is not something we would accept."

The city firefighters' union, which is battling the city in court for the second time over raises ordered by an arbitrator, joined the criticism.

"Nonunion city personnel didn't get a raise today, they got the shaft," president Bill Gault said.

The administration said it had no plans to use its proposed furlough authority for nonunion civil service workers, which would need approval from the mayoral appointees who make up the city's Civil Service Commission.

The proposed pension changes - both the increased contributions from nonunion employees and the diversion of new employees into a less-expensive hybrid plan - would require action by Council.

Council leadership, which has bucked the mayor on unilateral pension changes, struck a cautious tone Wednesday. Council President Darrell L. Clarke and Majority Leader Curtis Jones Jr. both declined to comment without reviewing the mayor's proposals.

Council refused to pass similar legislation in 2010, after police officers agreed to a hybrid plan for new hires. Council was concerned the bill was too broad and was being used to send a message to the other unions.

The legislation could be received differently this time.

Councilman Bill Green said Nutter's plan was not the same as the 2010 police proposal.

"You're giving people a pay raise. You're giving people their step increases," Green said. "This one's a reasonable package that begins to address the problem."

Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr., who sponsored a resolution in March calling for Nutter to end "demands for contract concessions," said the mayor's pay and benefit package set the parameters in negotiations.

"One side will view it as the ceiling and the other will view it as a floor," he said. "Obviously, city workers deserve a raise after all this time, but there also has to be health-care and pension reform. How that happens remains to be seen."

City Budget Director Rebecca Rhynhart said the city's financial situation mandated a continued tight rein on payroll costs.

"We are still in a fragile economic time," Rhynhart said. "Our tax revenues are growing modestly but we're nowhere near where we used to be. And we have to balance that with the burden on taxpayers, and then with being fair and reasonable to our employees."


Contact Bob Warner at 215-854-5885 or warnerb@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Troy Graham contributed to this article.

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