Budget address a sedate affair

Posted: March 07, 2014

IT WAS, likely to Mayor Nutter's great relief, a successfully dull endeavor.

One year after angry city unions shouted down Nutter's annual budget address, City Council's chamber was quiet yesterday with the exception of a few rounds of mild applause as Nutter laid out his priorities for the coming fiscal year.

The noise was locked out, with union members from AFSCME District Council 33 and Philadelphia Gas Works relegated to marching around City Hall to express their continuing displeasure with the second-term mayor.

About 60 union members eventually were allowed in to Council's fifth-floor balconies after being told that their protest signs had to stay outside and that any standing or outburst would lead to immediate removal.

Immediately following the budget address, Council President Darrell Clarke convened a news conference on the podium that Nutter had just left. Clarke and 11 Council members stood with DC 33 president Pete Matthews and Keith Holmes, president of Gas Workers Local 686.

"I do not believe in the privatization of [the] municipal workforce," Clarke said. "Today we stand here and state our unequivocal support for labor in the city of Philadelphia."

Matthews said he and his members decided not to interrupt the mayor out of respect for Council, which last month sent a letter urging the mayor to reach contracts with the municipal unions.

"We've consistently worked with this mayor, and he's consistently not told the truth in what he wanted to do," Matthews said. "We have saved the city close to a half a billion dollars in these five years, and we haven't received anything. Snow, rain, water-main breaks - our members are out there doing that work."

Holmes said his union was "shut out of the process" of the proposed PGW sale agreement to UIL Holdings, of New Haven, Conn.

"If you were doing right by the employees, you would have had us at the table," Holmes said. "There are questions and loopholes on the poor and elderly, there are senior-citizen discounts. . . . After the three-year [freeze on layoffs and rate increases], everything's off the table and there are no guarantees."

The ranks of the protesters were thinner this year, as two city unions had less to complain about.

District Council 47, the city's white-collar union, ended its five-year standoff with the city when it ratified a new contract Wednesday night. Earlier this year, the city gave up a long-running legal battle over a past arbitration award for the firefighters union.

Even so, it appeared in the morning as though chaos again might dominate the budget address, with hundreds of protesters swarming the main entrance at City Hall's northeast corner.

Nutter slipped in through another door, having his SUV stop in a lane of moving traffic to drop him off at the southeast corner. The demonstration, he said, was not a factor.

"I haven't been around the corner so I don't know who's actually out there, but I often come in a variety of different ways," he said.

But most of the protesters stayed outside for the budget address, shutting down traffic as they marched around City Hall.

"It's been long enough," said Jalal Goode, 37, a DC 33 sewer-maintenance worker. "We've been meeting our end of the deal; working hard, causing no problems. . . . He's just not a good union mayor."

Asked how so many city workers were able to show up for a protest on a Thursday morning, Goode said they did what they had to do.

"We take vacation days, sick days, whatever time we may have, to come out here and fight for what we deserve," said Goode, who is not related to former Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr. or his son, Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr.

Twitter: @ChrisBrennanDN

Blog: ph.ly/PhillyClout.com

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