A MAYOR DISOWNED! Dem Party, Unions Push Charter Change For Firefighters

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DEMOCRATIC Party Chair Bob Brady stands shoulder to shoulder with DC 33 leader Pete Matthews in quest to strip Mayor of unilateral power to appeal binding-arbitration awards.

DEMOCRATIC Party Chair Bob Brady stands shoulder to shoulder with DC 33 leader Pete Matthews in quest to strip Mayor of unilateral power to appeal binding-arbitration awards.

BY TONY WEST/ Not stated – but plain as day – is the fact this city’s Democratic leaders have, in effect, deposed the Mayor from any citywide leadership role in his own party.

That change occurred Tuesday when a broad-based coalition of Philadelphia’s political and labor leaders formally launched a drive to change the City Charter so Mayor Michael Nutter would be subject to binding-arbitration awards to sharply limit his ability to constantly appeal them in court.

Meeting at the Firefighters & Paramedics Union Local 22 hall in Northern Liberties were a phalanx of City Council Members from both parties, State Senators and Representatives, leaders of the city’s most-powerful public- and private-sector unions, and the Chair of Democratic City Committee, Congressman Bob Brady.

NEW LOCAL 22 President Joe Schulle announces launch of campaign to change City Charter. Looks like powerful Electricians' Union leader and powerbroker John Dougherty has his back.

NEW LOCAL 22 President Joe Schulle announces launch of campaign to change City Charter. Looks like powerful Electricians’ Union leader and powerbroker John Dougherty has his back.

The Mayor has been locked in bitter stalemates with city unions since he entered office. The city’s firefighters and paramedics have gone for more than four years without a contract; and they are not alone.

Specifically, the proposed charter change would require the Mayor to obtain the approval of City Council before he could proceed with legal challenges to future binding-arbitration awards.

Public-safety workers lack the right to strike. In compensation for that, their labor contracts are subject to binding arbitration in the event their union and the administration cannot sign an agreement. But Nutter has stalled implementation of the firefighters’ contracts by repeatedly appealing these awards. All administration appeals to date have been rejected by the courts, but Nutter has simply restarted the appeals process each time, leaving the firefighters in limbo.

PHALANX of political support came from City Controller Alan Butkovitz, State Rep. Ed Neilson, State Sen. Mike Stack and Congressman Bob Brady.

PHALANX of political support came from City Controller Alan Butkovitz, State Rep. Ed Neilson, State Sen. Mike Stack and Congressman Bob Brady.

“This charter-change initiative is about ensuring fair and balanced government in Philadelphia,” said Local 22’s newly elected President, Joe Schulle. “This isn’t about politics; it’s about fairness, stability and economic justice for the men and women who protect and serve the citizens of Philadelphia 24/7.”

To get this proposal on the November ballot, 20,000 signatures must be turned in by Sep. 21. A substantial task, but several leaders vowed they would get far more than 20,000 signatures by then.

Brady, who said he was “ashamed” of the treatment of the City’s firefighters, said, “Every committeeperson in every ward will be circulating these petitions.”

Councilman Jim Kenney will introduce a measure in City Council supporting this charter change. Kenney did not attend the press conference but six of his colleagues did. Asked how many votes he thought the measure would get, 1st Dist. Councilman Mark Squilla predicted it would pass unanimously.

“It’s not partisan issue, it’s a corruption of the process” outlined by law for the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, said 10th Dist. Councilman Brian O’Neill, one of the few elected Republican leaders in Philadelphia. “If the Mayor were still in City Council (and I remember when he was), he would be supporting it too.”

SIX COUNCIL MEMBERS attended kickoff of firefighters. petition drive. 1st Dist. Councilman Mark Squilla predicted authorizing bill will pass Council unanimously.

SIX COUNCIL MEMBERS attended kickoff of firefighters. petition drive. 1st Dist. Councilman Mark Squilla predicted authorizing bill will pass Council unanimously.

The charter-change proposal was developed in discussions between Schulle and City Controller Alan Butkovitz. The Controller was caustic about the Mayor’s bookkeeping, saying bluntly, “Michael Nutter has stolen money from the firefighters.” Butkovitz charged Nutter’s attempts to wiggle out of binding-arbitration awards are part of a pattern of presenting budgets that falsely claim to be balanced by ignoring the City’s true personnel costs. Estimated costs of Mayor Nutter’s court reruns is well over one million dollars.
Herman “Pete” Matthews, head of AFSCME District Council 33, which represents the City’s blue-collar workers, has major issues with the Nutter Administration about his own contract. He was talking war, calling the Mayor “mean-spirited and vengeful.”

While the rest of Philadelphia’s political leadership listened, Matthews said of Nutter, “The voters of Philadelphia overestimated his intelligence and underestimated his arrogance. This is a mistake they must never make about a candidate again.” His unions made moves early in Nutter’s regime, saving the administration hundreds of millions of dollars in costs. Matthews does not feel he won any respect from the Mayor for these efforts.

Matthews said Nutter has become ineffective at lobbying the Commonwealth for critical city needs because he will not work in partnership with other city leaders. “He goes to Harrisburg alone and comes back with nothing,” Matthews sniped.

For organized labor, city contracts have become a do-or-die cause. “There are 200,000 union members in Philadelphia, said local AFL-CIO President Pat Eiding. “Labor is alive and well in this town; the Mayor will soon be gone.”

This newspaper asked the City Finance Dir. Rob Dubow to explain the Administration’s position on appealing the firefighters’ awards but he did not comply with the request.

BEFORE press conference ended, signatures were already being racked up on ballot petitions.

BEFORE press conference ended, signatures were already being racked up on ballot petitions.

After the issue of public-safety arbitration is settled, labor unions will present a united front in pressing the Administration to finish negotiating all its other stalled labor contracts.

The proposed ballot question related to the charter change reads as follows:
“Shall the Home Rule Charter be amended to provide that the appeal by the City of Philadelphia of Interest Arbitration Awards for Police Officers, Firefighters, Paramedics or other public-safety personnel may be initiated only after approval by the Administrative Board and a two-thirds vote of City Council specifically authorizing such action at each level of appeal?”

Local 22 will be rolling out a communications campaign for the petition drive and before the election including posters, direct mail, publicity and advertising.

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2 Responses to A MAYOR DISOWNED! Dem Party, Unions Push Charter Change For Firefighters

  1. As the President of the National Conference of Mayors, Michael Nutter must have everyone nationally believing in his leadership and political acumen. At home, many of us have a different viewpoint.

    The decision to constantly appeal the firefighters’ arbitration awards is puzzling. I feel that DC 33 and 47 will have to make some concessions on health-care costs but that negotiations should be the basis for any decisions made going forward. Mayor Nutter will be perfectly content to paint unionized labor as draining the coffers dry while avoiding the collective-bargaining process. I haven’t seen the petitions yet.

    I am a committeeperson and will be waiting on directions from the 36th Ward leadership.

    Michael E. Bell
    July 28, 2013 at 7:45 pm

  2. I want the firefighters to get paid what they deserve and what their worth — BRAVE men and women who put their lives on the line everyday for the safety of Philadelphia’s citizens. However, before folks start talking about Charter changes, we need to revisit the Charter changes from the last 10 years to see if any productive changes occurred. One change off the top of my head is the creation of the Philadelphia Youth Commission — darn shame voters were duped!

    Furthermore, this is a so-called power-play for candidates who need John Dougherty’s money to fund their campaigns for Mayor in Primary 2015. And if Dougherty, Brady, other elected officials, some of the powerful unions and the Democratic City Committee endorsed Nutter for a second term, then maybe VOTERS should take a long look at their track records, especially when the arbitration decision was announced in 2010 — A YEAR BEFORE THE 2011 MAYORAL PRIMARY!

    SHENANIGANS, I tell ya … SHENANIGANS!!!

    Carol D. Tart
    August 1, 2013 at 9:12 pm

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