PENSIONS: Nutter Appeal To Ct. Could Trigger Labor War

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DC 47 President Cathy Scott blasts Mayor Michael Nutter for his mayoral “Grinch” approach to his dealing with city’s unions. Photo by Joe Stivala

AFSCME District Council 33 President Pete Matthews responded to a lawsuit filed by Mayor Michael Nutter in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court at a press conference last night.

Mayor Nutter is seeking a ruling allowing him to impose the City’s last contract proposal on AFSCME District Council 33, the city’s largest union.

President Pete Matthews and DC 33’s attorney Samuel Spear blasted the Mayor’s move as one more example of his hiding behind the courts and asking the courts to do what he should be doing himself, “sitting face to face with union officials in an honest bargaining effort.”

Mathews noted when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker started pushing for an end to collective-bargaining rights for unions, it touched off a national battle. Unions, both private- and public-sector, went into action and the campaigns against workers have continued in other states.

By filing a lawsuit in Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court asking for a ruling on whether he could impose the City’s final contract offer to DC 33, the Mayor either unwittingly or by design, has opened up a “Pandora’s box of trouble for unions in the state,” stated Matthews.

Matthews, the fiery president of AFSCME District Council 33, characterized Nutter’s move as “going full Scott Walker” on his union as he indicated this case may have even more-serious implications for all public-sector unions in the state. He said, “Nutter’s case goes directly to the heart of Act 195, the Pennsylvania Public Employee Bargaining Act which has been law in the state since the early 1970s.”

The real implications of this move may not be known for months or even years as lawyers for both sides battle the issue out in court. Spear was the lawyer who handled the precedent-setting case on behalf of DC 33 heard before the Commonwealth Court in 1993 which Nutter is challenging.

Matthews vows to fight Nutter’s challenge in the courts and has made it clear he is willing to continue negotiations on a wide range of contract issues, but that the Nutter administration is taking a hard line on a handful of issues that is preventing progress towards a settlement.

Concerned Democratic elected officials share the conviction this is shaping up to be a long fight with the potential for a lot of collateral damage both politically and administratively for the City and the State.

JOINING thousands at city labor rally last Saturday were 35th Ward Leader William Dolbow and son William Jr.; Dan Grace, leader of Teamsters Local 830; Dan McCaffery, Esq.; and Mark Calvert, Local 107. Photo by Joe Stivala

The Mayor’s handling of contract negotiations with the other city unions has been a rough one. As a result, FOP Lodge 5 President John McNesby joined IAFF Local 22 President Bill Gault and other firefighters’ union leaders earlier today at a press conference outside City Council Chambers to call upon Nutter to drop legal challenges to the firefighters’ binding-arbitration award. That award has been upheld twice by a neutral arbitrator and once by a Common Pleas Court judge.

This event marks the first time the FOP has called upon the Mayor to honor the firefighters award. Just weeks ago, the Nutter administration opted not to challenge the police arbitration award, despite the fact that its cost is equal to – if not more than – than the firefighters arbitration award.

Matthews noted, “Mayor Nutter held a press conference where he accused District Council 33 of holding our members and the citizens of the City ‘hostage’ because we refuse to accept the conditions of his so-called ‘last, best offer’ on our Union.

“On that same day, when a snow event was snarling traffic, I saw District Council 33 members on the job in the City salting the roads, picking up trash, maintaining water lines, staffing the airport, safeguarding kids crossing streets and doing all the other jobs that make this City work. “Who is being held hostage?”

Mayor Nutter has now escalated the dispute between DC 33 and his administration: He has broken off negotiations. This will do nothing to reach a fair contract settlement but it could set a precedent that could have far-reaching and harmful effects on public employee contract bargaining in Pennsylvania – but Mayor Nutter doesn’t seem to care.

“DC 33 is not at an ‘impasse’ in negotiations. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, DC 33 has made substantial efforts to adjust our contract proposals in order to find a way to a fair settlement.

“The City has not made any increases in contributions to the Health & Welfare Fund in going on five years.

“Mayor Nutter wants to force any new employees who would become DC 33 to accept a 401(k) type pension plan instead of the traditional defined benefit plan that has been the norm for years.This is the same plan in which an arbitrator ruled members of the FOP could enroll on a voluntary basis. To date, only three FOP members have enrolled.

“Nutter wants DC 33 members to be forced to accept this inferior pension plan with no option. This demand by Nutter is both punitive and fiscally irresponsible. It would cut off the funding stream to the traditional defined benefit plan that covers current City employees and to which they contribute from their pay each week.”

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