Union officials rip Nutter’s handling of labor issues

Posted: March 14, 2013

As Mayor Nutter prepared to unveil a new budget to City Council, the city's top union leaders on Wednesday excoriated Nutter's handling of municipal labor issues and called on Council members to take their side.

"He's trying to take away our right to collective bargaining," said Patrick Eiding, president of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO, at a lunchtime rally Wednesday, drawing some 300 union supporters to the north side of City Hall.

Eiding said the city's union movement would be out in greater force Thursday, trying to pack into City Hall and Council chambers when the mayor delivers his annual budget speech.

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," said Bill Gault, president of the city firefighters union, predicting that 1,000 city employees would attempt to attend, joined by hundreds from other unions. Council's seating capacity is 350.

The firefighters are battling the administration over raises awarded to the union in arbitration, but delayed by a court appeal from Nutter, who claims the city can't afford the expense.

Eiding and other labor leaders urged Nutter to immediately give firefighters the pay increase and drop another legal motion, now before the state Supreme Court. Nutter has petitioned the high court directly, seeking permission to impose contract terms on some 6,800 members of AFSCME District Council 33.

Henry Nicholas, national president of the hospital and health care workers union, focused on City Council, complaining that its 17 members have been "too quiet" about Nutter's labor tactics.

"They must tell him to stand down and do the right thing," Nicholas said. "And if they do not do that, we are coming after all of them in the next election."

City Controller Alan Butkovitz, seeking reelection this year, joined the attack on the Nutter administration.

"They have no respect for binding arbitration, no respect for collective bargaining," Butkovitz said. "This is not a question about saving money. . . . This is about taking away the tools by which we work out what the relationship between labor and management is going to be. It is a disgrace and we are behind you."

Administration spokesman Mark McDonald said Nutter supports unions and "wants to reestablish a vital collective bargaining process" with DC 33 and 47.

"It's the city's contention," he said, "that union leaders have said no, repeatedly, to some critically important reform measures that the mayor believes are vital for a sustainable city budget in the years to come."

The last contracts with DC 33 and 47 ran out in mid-2009. Sporadic negotiations have stalemated over the Nutter administration's demands for future city workers to go into a less-expensive pension plan and management authority to furlough employees for up to three weeks each year.

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

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