No rain on their parade but labor worries remain

Health-care workers march on Columbus Boulevard during the Labor Day Parade on Monday. They were one of several unions that gathered to participate in the annual celebration.
Health-care workers march on Columbus Boulevard during the Labor Day Parade on Monday. They were one of several unions that gathered to participate in the annual celebration. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 03, 2014

The T-shirted battalions of union members showed up, as usual, for the annual Labor Day parade along the Delaware River waterfront.

Right on cue, the politicians were there, as well, courting union support for the upcoming election cycle, just as they always do.

But something was missing from Monday's Labor Day activities.

Rain. Driving, pavement-lashing buckets of it.

"The Big Guy whispered in my ear that we'd be dry until 5 p.m.," the city's top labor leader, Patrick J. Eiding, told an appreciative crowd of hundreds gathered for a pre-parade rally at the Sheet Metal Workers Local 19 union hall on South Columbus Boulevard.

For at least the last two years, downpours had soaked the parade-goers, but Monday morning's weather, being dry, and not yet excruciatingly humid, provided more time and patience for the issues - and the politicians.

Eiding, who heads the Philadelphia AFL-CIO, urged the group to get active in politics and to vote for politicians who support labor issues.

"We don't care if they are D's or R's," Eiding said, referring to political parties. "We care if they care" about working people.

Local politicians gathered around the podium. Missing was Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf, but the Democrat got a rousing endorsement from John Kane, president of Local 690 of the Plumbers Union.

Kane, a Democrat, is running for state Senate in the 26th District, which includes parts of Delaware and Chester Counties.

Beyond politics, there were plenty of labor issues:

In red T-shirts, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers listened as their president, Jerry Jordan, talked about the funding crisis in the schools. The way out, he said, is to find the right funding, not to cut teacher pay.

"They want the teachers to fund their own contracts," he said.

"We Can and Will Strike if Necessary" was the motto imprinted on the back of the T-shirts worn by members of the Transport Workers Union Local 234, representing SEPTA bus drivers.

"I fully expect to strike," union president Willie Brown said. A sticking point is pension funding.

In blue T-shirts, members of Gas Workers Local PGW 686 were led by an equipment operator dressed as Batman.

"Selling PGW is a crime," Batman said, but didn't want his real name used because he said, employees have been put on notice that public complaining about the sale would cause them to be disciplined. Employees say they are worried about job security and fear the price of gas will rise.

The chartreuse shirts belonged to the American Postal Workers Union, U.S. Postal Service employees who work inside post offices. Their beef is a move by the Postal Service to offer some postal services, such as certified mail and stamp purchases, at Staples.

"They are hiring people at Staples for $7 or $8 an hour to do our work," said Nick Casselli, president of Local 89.

In his dark-green union T-shirt, water department worker Dante Watson, stood with other members of his union, AFSCME District Council 33, representing the city's 10,000 blue-collar employees.

Watson said he still hasn't decided how to vote on the contract reached last month after five years of sporadic negotiations. Giving him pause is a provision that sick-time hours will no longer count toward overtime in a work week.

"That's a concession," he said. "We've made enough sacrifices."


jvonbergen@phillynews.com

215-854-2769

@JaneVonBergen

www.inquirer.com/jobbing

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