Union members slam Nutter on negotiations

Union workers Ronald Armour and Eunice Grigsby joined thousands of their colleagues at a rally Saturday at Independence Mall, assailing Mayor Nutter's positions in labor contract talks.
Union workers Ronald Armour and Eunice Grigsby joined thousands of their colleagues at a rally Saturday at Independence Mall, assailing Mayor Nutter's positions in labor contract talks. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)

Some city workers have been in a standoff for four years.

Posted: January 21, 2013

Thousands of union workers converged on Independence Mall on a crisp Saturday morning, calling on Mayor Nutter to negotiate with some of the city's biggest labor unions, which have been locked in a four-year standoff over their contracts.

Labeling Nutter a "dictator" and his labor negotiations akin to hostage-taking, national labor leaders took the stage with local union presidents just days after Nutter made a "final offer" to the local municipal workers' union - an offer that local labor leaders say is unacceptable.

Speakers praised the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a fighter for workers' rights. He died while advocating in Memphis for striking sanitation workers.

Nutter wasn't in the city Saturday - he was in Washington, heading the U.S. Conference of Mayors for the weekend with plans to stay for Monday's presidential inaugural. A truck with anti-Nutter billboards, sponsored by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, was parked outside the hotel where the conference was taking place.

"He spends so much time in D.C. - he's got to have a SuperSaver pass for the Metro," said Cathy Scott, the president of AFSCME District Council 47. "We want to bring attention to the policies that this mayor is following in Philadelphia."

National labor leaders - including American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten and AFSCME president Lee Saunders - shouted slogans along with the crowd on the mall and said local union members had the support of unionized workers around the country.

"Our members have been without wage increases for four years," Saunders said just before the rally. "This is not a city issue - we're making it a national issue."

Attendees at Saturday's rally came from a number of unions with grievances against the mayor. The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, angry over school closings, were on hand. The firefighters' union, which is also operating without a contract and chafing at the fact that the city is fighting the contract awarded to the union by an arbitration ruling, was out in force.

AFSCME District Council 33, the municipal workers' union that was given a "final offer" from Nutter last week and promptly rejected it, flooded the mall with protesters waving signs and flags.

The city's offer to D.C. 33 included a 2.5 percent wage increase but no additional wage increases to make up for the union's four years without a contract. Union members have also balked at the offer's inclusion of possible furloughs, although mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said the city was not planning to use its furlough authority.

McDonald called the offer "a bit of a watershed" and said the mayor felt that furloughs were a better alternative to layoffs.

"The mayor ran on a platform in 2007 that he would reform the pension system in the city, would reform health care, and would create an environment where there are work rules for city employees that are essentially sustainable, that city taxpayers can afford," he said.

D.C. 33 members say they're frustrated with stagnant wages and rising health-care costs.

"It's unfair - they're promising us stuff and taking away stuff at the same time," said Jeff Montgomery, 51, a Streets Department employee from Mount Airy. "We haven't gotten a raise in four years. We can't get promotions. That's enough sacrifice."

Contact Aubrey Whelan

at 610-313-8112, at awhelan@philly.com or on Twitter

at @aubreyjwhelan.

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