Nutter gives blue-collar union 2 weeks to reach deal

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (left) and Herman "Pete" Matthews (right), president of AFSCME District Council 33. (File photos)
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (left) and Herman "Pete" Matthews (right), president of AFSCME District Council 33. (File photos)
Posted: January 22, 2013

BEFORE THE Nutter administration gave its "final offer" to the city's blue-collar union last week, it appeared as though the second-term mayor might simply be running out the clock on his stalemate with the city's municipal unions, happy to pass the thorny issue of renewing contracts that expired in 2009 on to his successor.

Now, at least in the case of District Council 33, it's increasingly clear that the party that's more content with the status quo is the union.

Nutter's team on Wednesday proposed a contract with pay raises in exchange for possible furlough days, a less-generous pension system and changes to health-care benefits. The mayor's negotiators said DC33, part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, had two weeks to act on the offer before his administration takes some unspecified action that could mean unilaterally imposing his contract or seeking court intervention.

DC33 president Pete Matthews, interviewed at a high-profile rally Saturday that drew thousands of union workers and supporters to Independence Mall, indicated that he knows what his union has to do to prevent the administration from imposing its own terms - a legally questionable move, thanks to a 1993 ruling against then-Mayor Ed Rendell's attempt to end a stalemate with Housing Authority workers.

Imposing terms, Matthews said, is illegal in Pennsylvania.

"As of now, yes. Yes, it would be illegal," he said.

Asked if his wording meant that things could change, Matthews hit the nail on the head: "Not as long as we keep negotiating." So if DC33 wants to stop Nutter from imposing terms, its workers have to keep working and its negotiators have to keep negotiating.

Matthews said he will counter Wednesday's offer with a proposal of his own within the next two weeks but does not expect things to end anytime soon - even after four years of back-and-forth.

"We got a lot of things to negotiate about," Matthews said. "We always have counteroffers. Our problem is we go in and we continue to negotiate, but he wants to negotiate for things that we already have. We'll talk about that if he wants to continue to talk about it. That's fine."

Matthews denies that the union is now the one seeking to run out the clock. But his comments in the speech Saturday highlighted just how little he is interested in negotiating.

"I'm not giving a damn thing back," Matthews shouted, spawning a chant of "No givebacks" from the crowd. "Everybody in this union, if you ain't on board, you've got to get on board because I ain't giving nothing back."


On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN

Blog: PhillyClout.com

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