Clarke: We'll make sure Nutter can speak this time

Posted: March 06, 2014

PHILADELPHIA Philadelphia City Council President Darrell L. Clarke says he is taking steps to avoid the raucous union demonstration that prevented Mayor Nutter from delivering his budget speech in Council chambers last year.

And one labor leader says Clarke's wishes matter to union members.

Nutter is scheduled to revisit Council chambers Thursday morning to present his budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, and he doesn't appear to be a lot more popular with the city's unions than he was a year ago.

A tentative contract settlement with AFSCME District Council 47, representing 3,600 social and health care workers, librarians, computer technicians and other city employees, faces a ratification vote Wednesday night. But the administration is still at an apparent stalemate in its talks with the larger AFSCME unit representing 10,000 blue-collar city workers, District Council 33.

And the mayor has antagonized leaders of another group of organized city workers, 1,150 employees of the Philadelphia Gas Works, with the announcement this week of a tentative deal to sell PGW to a Connecticut energy company, UIL Holdings Corp.

D.C. 33 president Pete Matthews has scheduled a rally to begin at 8:30 a.m. Thursday just outside the City Hall entrance where Nutter's police escort usually parks the mayor's car.

Last year, Nutter's budget speech to Council was drowned out by hundreds of shouting and jeering union members, armed with ear-piercing whistles and signs depicting Nutter as Bozo the Clown.

Clarke permitted the clamor to continue for 10 minutes before gaveling the proceedings to an end. A few hours later, Nutter gave his speech to a quieter group - mostly his aides and cabinet members - in the Mayor's Reception Room, several steps from his second-floor office.

This year will be different, Clarke assured reporters Tuesday.

"We will do what we need to do to have a secure environment to ensure the mayor is allowed to deliver his budget message," the Council president said. "I anticipate that some people might not feel comfortable about the budget message, be it PGW or be it the lack of all the municipal unions having a contract."

He declined to describe Council's security plans.

Frank Keel, a spokesman for Local 686 of the Utility Workers Union of America, which represents PGW employees, said the union had been informed that Council planned to close off its balcony and admit people to its gallery only with tickets.

"Whoever made the decision, it's flat-out wrong to disenfranchise the members whose lives and careers are on the line," Keel said.

Even so, John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty, the politically active business manager for the electricians' union, said Tuesday that he expected union members to follow Clarke's wishes.

Clarke "has built up a lot of respect and credibility in the labor community," Dougherty said. "I would think he would have a lot of input on the decorum of any Council session."



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