Furloughs called unnecessary stumbling block in Philly contract fights

Posted: March 27, 2013

One thing was clear from Philadelphia City Council's first day of budget hearings Monday - many of the members regard Mayor Nutter's drive to win the right to furlough nonuniformed workers as an unnecessary impediment to finalizing contracts with the municipal unions.

Council President Darrell L. Clarke noted that the city's five-year financial plan - the official topic of the inaugural hearing - doesn't anticipate the need to furlough workers. He also said the unions prefer layoffs in times of economic stress because members then can collect unemployment.

"I don't understand why that continues to be a sticking point," he said. "One, we don't need them. Two, the preference with the unions is, if you want to lay me off, lay me off."

Nutter's chief of staff, Everett Gillison, said the administration believes that it's better to furlough workers in tough times, saving money without laying people off. He also said the issue - the administration is seeking the right to furlough some workers for up to three weeks a year - is hardly the only matter holding up deals with District Councils 47 and 33.

"I think there are other issues," he said.

Councilman Bobby Henon, an electricians union employee with Council's deepest labor bona fides, twice questioned why Nutter would ask the state Supreme Court for permission to impose a contract on D.C. 33, the blue collar union.

"Why are we taking the sanctity of collective bargaining into the courts?" he asked.

"The reason we're in the courts is because we don't have any other options," Gillison said. "Sometimes you need to be pushed when you get to the end."

Councilman David Oh also took the administration to task for not budgeting for the cost of a firefighter contract now being challenged in courts. He pointed to $3 million in the capital budget for a bike-share program and suggested that Nutter thought the bike program was "more important than public safety."

Administration officials pointed out that public safety was funded out of the operating budget, not the capital budget, and that new fire equipment was one of the budget's biggest new spending items.

Members also asked a number of questions about money they thought the administration could be collecting or saving. Many of those queries were cast in light of the contracts, the underfunded pension system, and the mayor's property tax reform effort, the Actual Value Initiative (AVI), which is going to cause property taxes to go up substantially in some neighborhoods.

Clarke, who said after union protesters halted the mayor's budget address this month that he would get involved in contract negotiations, asked about his proposal to sell advertising on city property - an idea he says Nutter and staff have shown little enthusiasm for.

While questioning Finance Director Rob Dubow, Clarke suggested that selling advertising would make more money than would be saved under the mayor's plan to reform the pension system.

Dubow noted that the pension changes would reap more savings in later years, as more employees entered the new plan.

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