Matthews At Peace With New DC 33 Contract

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BY PETE MATTHEWS, President, District Council 33/ We have a contract! The war is over.

I discussed with my members not long ago in detail our ongoing battles with the City and the difficulties we’ve faced winning a fair contract. As most of you know, we have won this battle. We have a fair contract, and maybe even more important, we are not Wisconsin.

What do I mean by that? At the beginning of this fight, the City tried to gut our contract. We refused to bend. We worked with the City through the biggest depression since the 1930s to get the City back on its feet financially.

But, back on its feet, what thanks did we get? The City sued us! In an act reminiscent of recent Tea Party efforts in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and other states to emasculate the labor movement, the Mayor went to the State Supreme Court for permission to impose his “final offer” on all of us.

Not only would this have derailed any realistic possibility of our continuing to collectively bargain a fair contract, it would have basically wrecked the ability of all public sector unions everywhere in Pennsylvania to negotiate with public employers with any reasonable likelihood of getting new, fair agreements. If we lost this case, we would have gone back to the time when workers would get only what the boss wanted – not what we should be entitled to. The Mayor’s legal action, clearly, was aimed at one thing: Destroy the labor movement.

One immense part of our contract settlement is this: The City has agreed to voluntarily end this lawsuit.

District Council 33 enables the members to vote to ratify, or reject, the tentative agreement we reached at approximately 10 p.m. last Thursday night, Aug. 21, 2014.

We used the pressure of the Democratic National Committee’s considering Philadelphia as one of the sites for the 2016 Democratic National Convention to help get us this contract. We’ve relied on our allies in City Council. We’ve worked behind the scenes to finally get you a decent contract.

Judge for yourself what is in it:
• An immediate (Sep. 1) 3.5% wage increase
• At the same time (within 30 days of ratification) a bonus of $2,800
• Another increase in 10 months of 2.5%
• Increased contributions into our Health & Welfare Fund to allow our plan to continue without increased member contributions
• no change in when layoffs can be done, and no furlough days
• Restore lost step and longevity increases
• Life Insurance benefit increased by $5000 to $25,000
• Tool allowance increase.

There is an increase 1% in contributions members must make into the Pension Fund (spread out over the next two years, 0.5% January 2015 and another 0.5% in January 2016).

Finally, we moved the City off its overtime proposal, and it is much less severe than originally proposed. Rather than not counting sick, holidays, funeral and AL days in calculating 40 hours as the City wanted, this agreement only will not count sick days.

Weekly overtime (overtime worked on a member’s day off after 40 hours worked in a week) will be impacted by use of sick leave, on an hour-for-hour basis. But sick leave usage will not affect payment for daily overtime (overtime worked the same day you have already worked your regular 8 hours). Other paid leave taken during a workweek also will not affect your right to be paid at the regular overtime rates for any overtime you work.

The value of this contract isn’t just in what it contains – but in what the City didn’t get in its initial proposals:

The City wanted to effectively take over the union’s Health & Welfare Fund
• Reduce post retirement health benefits from five years to three years
• make every member’s pension a 401(k)
• Reduce three holidays
• reduce sick days to 10 per year (and require doctor’s notes for all sick leave usage)
• change disciplinary, discharge and grievance procedures
• change work schedules
• increase probation from six months to one year, and
• permit the City to furlough any member, at any time, for up to 30 days a year!

The City, in this contract, got none of those proposals. In its “final offer” – on the table for the last 19 months, until last Thursday night – the City still insisted on 15 furlough days (almost a 6% wage decrease), eliminate most paid non-work time from the calculation of 40 hours, eliminate all double time, and wage increases significantly lower than what was finally agreed to. Plus, the City was still fighting us in court to get the right to impose all this on us, without having to bargain over it!

Remember the climate we are bargaining in today. Had we agreed to a contract several years ago, during this century’s Great Recession, our members could have kissed any wage increases goodbye, and would have lost many other benefits. Despite an improved economy since then, private industry continues massive layoffs and moving plants south of the border or overseas. Legislatures in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, throughout the South, even in California, have hampered or even eliminated collective-bargaining rights, under the Tea Party banner of free enterprise, “freedom to choose,” and “right to work” – the right-wing slogan for “right to work for less.”

Billions of dollars of pension systems are being converted to far-less beneficial and risky 401(k) plans or done away with entirely. And this is not just in the private sector; even traditionally liberal states, with left-leaning Democratic governors, are stripping public-sector workers of their pension rights in California, New York, and Illinois. These threats are very, very real.

What will we get when this contract is ratified? Wage and benefit increases. No furlough days. Preventing losing our pension to a 401(k) plan. Stopping the takeover of our Health & Welfare. And we return 22 months from now, to bargain a new contract with a new Mayor.

I can’t thank our members enough for sticking by us in this long fight. Yes, we waited five long years – five years of hard work fighting to have the City continue paying wages, pension, and health-care benefits. All the members fought to keep this! Not to mention – we won the fight to preserve our right to collectively bargain! Without that, there would be no union –wages and benefits would be dictated entirely by the City. That is a huge victory for all.

What we achieved is substantial. And we achieved this without a strike.

I’m proud of our Executive Board for making the hard choices that resulted in a very positive outcome under very adverse circumstances. We hope to do even better next time, with a new Mayor. And this will be through collective bargaining – not the threat of an unlawful unilateral imposition by the City without bargaining.

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