Union members have mixed reaction to tentative contract

Posted: August 25, 2014

Happiness and relief. Grudging acceptance. Bitter rejection.

Upon learning they finally have a tentative contract five years after the last one expired, members of a union that represents more than 10,000 city blue-collar and office employees are reacting with a range of emotions.

Pete Matthews, president of AFSCME District Council 33, said Saturday that he was optimistic that the deal would be approved when members mail back their ballots.

"You always have a dissident group," Matthews said, acknowledging that some posters on the district's Facebook page have been critical. "It's a small percentage."

The true measure of opinion will start to take shape this week. Matthews said ballots would be mailed to all members by Monday.

Union member Nicholas Zernone, a carpenter who works at Philadelphia International Airport, gave a thumbs-up to the raises contained in the two-year deal, announced Friday by Mayor Nutter. Members would get a 3.5 percent increase effective Sept. 1, and another 2.5 percent increase as of July 1 next year. They also would receive a $2,800 signing bonus.

"Looking at the long term, I'm just happy we have a contract," said Zernone, 35, of Port Richmond.

Messages left with a dozen others who commented on the district's Facebook page were not immediately returned.

The union represents trash haulers, police dispatchers, corrections officers and school crossing guards, among others.

Matthews, the president, said he was pleased with the deal, pointing to the city relenting on some of its initial demands.

Among those were a proposal to stop health coverage for retirees after three years. Instead, coverage will remain in effect for five years after retirement, if the plan is ratified, Matthews said.

"Overall, it's really good," Matthews said of the plan.

If the agreement is ratified, members will have to contribute more toward their pensions, with a 0.5 percent increase taking effect Jan. 1, followed by another 0.5 percent increase a year later.

New employees would have to contribute an additional 1 percent above that, or they could opt for a different plan that is a hybrid of a defined-benefit plan and a 401(k).

The deal would add $127 million to the city's costs over five years, according to Nutter's office. If the plan is approved, the city would drop a lawsuit in which it sought to impose new contract conditions.



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