Vocal union protesters are nothing new to City Council.
Representatives of AFSCME District Council 33, the largest municipal union, showered Nutter with catcalls during his budget address last year and the year before. And members of the Building and Construction Trades Council have never been shy about confronting Council members whose votes were needed for a multimillion-dollar construction project.
What's noteworthy is the alliance among different factions of organized labor united in criticism of Nutter's dealings with city workers.
Three of the city's four major unions are locked in battle with Nutter - AFSCME District Councils 33 and 47, which have been working without contracts since mid-2009, and Local 22 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which has twice won raises in arbitration proceedings only to see the city appeal them to the courts.
Electricians union chief John J. "Johnny Doc" Dougherty has been the host for coalition meetings, calling various unions together at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 headquarters on Spring Garden Street.
Dougherty would not comment, but labor sources said the meetings were an attempt to build on the momentum generated by the Workers Stand for America rally, held in August on Eakins Oval, that brought tens of thousands of workers together.
"Normally the [building] trades do their own thing, public sector does their own thing, and private sector did their own thing," said an attendee at a Feb. 25 meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was not open to the public.
The hour-long meeting at the electricians' building included about 60 people, including municipal unions, building trades, longshoremen, and other AFSCME unions, said the source.
Dougherty's central message, according to the source: "Maybe if we were together last time, we wouldn't have gotten stuck with this guy."
City Councilman Bobby Henon, the electricians' former political director - still employed by the union in an untitled position, reporting directly to Dougherty - was also at the lunch meeting, which featured hoagies, TastyKakes, and soft pretzels.
In an interview Thursday, Henon said the meetings had been going on regularly.
"They happen to be talking about where they are on the contracts," Henon said. "Moving forward, you're going to see more and more unity in the labor movement in the months and years to come."
The unions are particularly peeved at the administration's recent bid to impose contract terms on D.C. 33, declaring an impasse and asking the state Supreme Court to intervene.
"What this mayor is doing now is playing with the collective-bargaining process, taking these issues off the bargaining table and taking them to the courts." Eiding said.
City Solicitor Shelley Smith defended the administration's approach, saying the union had refused to discuss Nutter's initiatives to put new hires into a less-expensive pension plan and allow the city to furlough employees instead of permanent layoffs.
"Nothing about what we're doing is trying to change the collective-bargaining rights of the unions," Smith said.
"We have been trying to negotiate a contract with District Council 33 for years," Smith continued, "and the answer has always been, 'Give us more money and we're not talking about anything else,' which is the equivalent of, 'No, we're not going to negotiate with you.' "
A variety of public employers in Pennsylvania, including school districts and county and municipal governments, have filed briefs supporting the city's position, while public employee unions and the state AFL-CIO are opposed.
The city is trying to overturn a 1993 Commonwealth Court opinion that a public agency cannot declare an impasse and impose contract terms on a public employee union unless union members have gone on strike.
Smith said the city went to the Supreme Court "to try to force the issue. . . . We don't have a choice if we're not going to let this go on indefinitely."
Contact Bob Warner
at 215-854-5885 or email@example.com.
Inquirer staff writer Troy Graham contributed to this article.