Nutter’s Policies Have Forged New Unionism – A History

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AFL-CIO unions joined DC 33 and DC 47 in mass rally outside Westin Hotel where Mayor was meeting with other mayors from around country.

AFL-CIO unions joined DC 33 and DC 47 in mass rally outside Westin Hotel where Mayor was meeting with other mayors from around country.

Two “informational” union rallies were staged last week during the Conference of Mayors held at the Westin Hotel. They were designed to bring to light the unfair dealings Conference host President Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has had through his two terms in office.

As a result, other mayors saw signs seen in the cover picture of this issue of Nutter dressed like Bozo the Clown.

While many believe the action was meant to embarrass the Mayor, city-union leaders Pete Matthews and Cathy Scott, along with Electricians’ Union leader John Dougherty, were very clear when they explained the real message they are sending is rooted in the Good Word: “Treat others as you would have them to treat you.” In union terminology, this reads, “Negotiate, don’t dictate.”

Nutter has failed to negotiate through his two terms, managing to alienate many constituencies since into a standoff between all unions, in both public and private sectors, and himself.

Nutter has shown he turns a deaf ear when it comes to labor unions. That action has accomplished what labor itself could not do for years – unify public and private sector unions for a common purpose against a common enemy.

Cementing this unification was Nutter’s appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for a ruling allowing him to impose a contract on District Council 33. Organized labor sees this as a clumsy and unnecessary action. It touches the proverbial third rail for most unions because it strikes at the core of collective bargaining. As a result, DC 33 President Matthews has taken to calling Nutter the “Scott Walker of the East”, after the public-sector union-busting Governor of Wisconsin.

What led Mayor to take this path is known only to himself. It has marred his entire Administration, however. Here is the history:

It began in January 2008, when Michael Nutter was sworn into office with high expectations. The general public and city leaders lined up around City Hall, some waiting for hours for an opportunity to say hello and shake the new Mayor’s hand. Important to note here, as well, is the new Mayor started off with about six friends and supporters in Council.

In June 2008 the new Mayor asks for and receives a one-year contract from the municipal unions so he would have time to understand the fiscal situation of the City.

September 2008: Nutter threatens to lay off 200 or more members of District Council 33. Coming to their rescue is Matthews, who negotiates a workforce shift that avoids any layoffs by assigning workers to other funded positions in city government. This preserves jobs while still saved the City $35 million.

By November 2008, the road to negotiation is becoming harder to navigate as the nation headed for a fiscal collapse. Mayor Nutter announces recreation-center and library closures, for which he is immediately taken to court.

December 2008: Judge Idee Fox overrules the advice Nutter received from City Solicitor Shelly Smith and hands him his first court defeat. Recreation centers and libraries are not closed.

As 2009 comes in, the fiscal situation has not changed and Nutter asks publicly for elected officials to return their city cars. This infuriates many Council Members and causes Nutter to lose some voting support on Council.

Next, in March 2009, Nutter proposes a 19% property-tax hike. This effort is firmly rejected and upsets many Council Members; rumor has it a voting majority was willing to accept 7% but Nutter would not compromise.

August 2009: Nutter announces Plan “C” and says he will now be forced to lay off hundreds of police and firefighters.

September 2009: PICA, Council Members and the Controller shoot holes in the premise of Plan “C”.

September 2009: While the City is facing its financial crisis, relief is proposed by City Controller Alan Butkovitz in the form of pension changes which would free up enough monies to avoid implementing Plan “C” and stabilize the City. These changes would require legislative approval by the State House and Senate.

September 2009: Matthews dispatches his team to Harrisburg to work with DC 47 President Cathy Scott, FOP President John McNesby, Fire Fighters Local 22 President Bill Gault, other statewide public-sector unions and the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO on getting HB 1828 passed. The day before the bill is signed, Nutter, after being briefed it would pass, sends out layoff notices to library workers and almost causes a collapse of the agreements.

Tied to the pension-deferral bill is legislation allowing the City to raise the sales tax by 1%, creating a new source of revenue for the City to use to balance the budget. This proposal also passes the state legislature, but only with the support of city-workers’ unions and their statewide allies.

September 2009: Despite the interference by Nutter, HB 1828 and the sales-tax enabling legislation are passed and Plan “C” and the layoffs are averted.

May 2010: Nutter asks for a sugary-drink tax. After much wrangling, he gets enough votes to pass the bill. After agreeing to a deal to pass the legislation, he changes his mind and reneges on the deal. The tax is defeated.

Also in 2010: Nutter appeals firefighters contract for the first time. Says it is too costly, but he had already approved the FOP award that many saw as very similar.

2011: Arbitration panel upholds the firefighters award.

2011: Nutter vetoes sick-leave bill upsetting long-time ally Councilman Bill Greenlee.

May 2011: Nutter runs for reelection after losing much of his prior support and defeats Milton Street, who still receives 25% of the vote, without much of a campaign and little money.

2011: Nutter appeals firefighters’ contract for the second time

April 2012: Nutter releases Actual Value Initiative and asks for Council passage without releasing data. Council approves AVI, but holds off for one year for implementation.

2012: Judge Idee Fox once again upholds firefighters award

2012: Nutter appeals the firefighters award for the third time to a higher court.

February 2013: Nutter announces an impasse with non-uniformed union workers and he files for judicial relief in Common Pleas court, which declines to take his case.

February 2013: Nutter asks the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to allow him to impose a contract settlement on DC 33. This move threatens to overturn the statewide Public Employee Bargaining Act (Act 195) passed in the early 1970s, and puts all public-sector unions in Pennsylvania in jeopardy.

February 2013: Nutter releases AVI information and causes a firestorm by not releasing the formula used to achieve the assessments.

March 2013: Controller Alan Butkovitz fiercely attacks the process and exposes the impact of the AVI, which will mostly affect low-income and minority individuals.

March 2013: Nutter again vetoes the sick-leave bill sponsored by Greenlee.

March 2013: Nutter initiates the sale of the city-owned utility, the Philadelphia Gas Works. Now he saddles PGW with paying for preliminaries necessary to set up the sale. This goes against the wishes of Councilwoman Marian Tasco, the chair of the Gas Commission.

April 2013: During budget hearings, Nutter is criticized by many Council Members for his failure to settle contracts with city-worker unions and for his constant, costly appeals of the firefighters arbitration award.

April 2013: Councilwoman Tasco, while questioning Nutter’s Chief of Staff Everett Gillison in a budget hearing, discovers Sturgis Playground shenanigans the Nutter Administration used to try to force her compliance on the PGW sale issue. They were accused by her of holding up the playground’s needed refurbishing until she became more compliant.

It is clear by now Nutter’s lack of political skill has caused a steady and serious erosion of his ability to get things done in the City. His accomplishments are more and more being seen by many as merely photo ops and staged events meant to burnish his image outside Philadelphia.

His failure to settle city-workers contracts, along with his continued appeals of the firefighters arbitration, have turned public-sector unions against him. His willingness to push tax breaks and his courtship of non-union and anti-union developers has drawn the ire of the building trades unions.

Private-sector unions are in unanimous agreement Nutter’s move sets a dangerous precedent for collective-bargaining rights in general. They have been actively working with AFSCME and the Fire Fighters Union to ramp up opposition to Nutter. IBEW chief John Dougherty has been leading the unity movement by hosting regular meetings of leaders of public- and private-sector unions, from Pat Eiding and Liz McElroy of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO and Pat Gillespie of the Philadelphia Building Trades to service employees and transit workers.

The labor unity being forged in reaction to the Mayor’s hostile relations with city-worker unions is unprecedented.

The immediate result of this consolidation of power was recently evidenced in the primary-election win by Controller Butkovitz, as most unions were unified behind his candidacy. This is expected to continue in future political campaigns as the new unity among unions in this city will demand more support for their needs from those they will support.

This new unity may be the only positive political legacy of Mayor Michael Nutter.

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3 Responses to Nutter’s Policies Have Forged New Unionism – A History

  1. Nutter and Butkovitz. Both are foxes watching the henhouse. Unions should get outside their comfort zone.

    A lot of people are eyeing this guy Tracy for starters. Seems to know how to talk to people straight. If nothing else, those Republicans are shaking it up this time:

    May 30, 2013 at 6:25 pm

  2. The new labor unity means an even-greater vested interest, which will corrupt our politicians into engage in more closed door decision-making with quid pro quos. Instead of doing what is best for the country, elected representatives will do what is best for their survival and the preeminence of power. Maybe term limits would help, but I cannot imagine politicians voting against their greed and self-interest.

    John Zerillo
    June 3, 2013 at 3:01 am

  3. District Council 33 and 47 always have the strike option at their disposal. In these shaky economic times, however, it will not be utilized.

    The Mayor will go down as one of the worst when it comes to honoring collectively bargained contracts and benefits. He is working hard on maintaining a national image of fiscal restraint while alienating the majority of the city workforce.

    The one thing that is going to break the back of the Philadelphia economy is the cost of benefits, though. As a former city employee, I know how good city workers have it. Paying more will be one of the first concessions. The Mayor will have to relent and grant raises also. How long can this stalemate last?

    Michael E. Bell
    July 18, 2013 at 5:02 am

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