Fight against Nutter's proposal for city staffers expands to nearly all unionized Pennsylvania workers

Posted: February 22, 2013

Lawyers representing close to one million Pennsylvania workers - including virtually all unionized government employees, from highway laborers to teachers - have joined Philadelphia's largest municipal union in asking the state Supreme Court to reject Mayor Nutter's bid to impose contract terms after a four-year standoff.

The city filed suit Feb. 1 in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, seeking permission to impose its most recent offer on about 6,800 members of AFSCME District Council 33. The package includes reduced pensions for new employees, the right to furlough employees for up to three weeks a year, and new work rules to cut overtime, combined with pay raises totaling 4.5 percent over the next two years.

The next week, the city asked the Supreme Court to take jurisdiction in the case, saying the issues were too urgent to wait for a decision from a Philadelphia judge, likely followed by appeals.

In responses filed Tuesday, D.C. 33 attorney Samuel L. Spear contended the right panel to hear the city's case would be the state Labor Relations Board, whose decision could then be appealed to the courts.

Spear said the city's request flew in the face of 30 years of bargaining with public employees.

"For all practical purposes, when the employer imposes its version of what it thinks the contract should be, collective bargaining comes to an end," his filing said. "The employer has gotten what it wants. There is no incentive - absent a strike - for it to engage in any further discussion."

The law firm Willig, Williams & Davidson filed a friend-of-the-court statement on behalf of 17 labor organizations, including the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and AFSCME District Council 47, a smaller group of Philadelphia city employees. D.C. 47 spokesman Bob Bedard said the collective union membership totaled roughly one million workers.

The statement said the city was attempting "an unwarranted, radical, and permanent shift in power," from public employees to the government agencies that hire them.

The city's top labor lawyer, Shannon Farmer, said that taking the issue to the labor relations board, with subsequent appeals, would "leave the city and its taxpayers in limbo for four or five years."

The city's nonuniformed employees have been working without a contract since mid-2009.

Contact Bob Warner at 215-854-5885 or

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