By Mike Dunn, Tim Jimenez, Jericka Duncan
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The long-running contract talks between the Nutter administration and the city’s largest municipal workers’ union took an unusual twist today. The mayor announced he’s going to court to get a judge’s permission to impose the terms of his last contract offer.
Mayor Nutter believes he has the right to impose on trash collectors and other blue-collar city workers the terms of his so-called “final offer” (see related story), after two bargaining sessions with District Council 33 this week went nowhere (another related story).
The union contends that Nutter does not have that right. And since this question would likely end up in court anyway, the mayor has decided to file in Common Pleas Court as a first step.
“Rather than going ahead and implementing this final offer, and having our hard-working city employees in a state of uncertainty about their compensation, benefits, and work rules, we are going to ask the courts to decide on that part of this matter,” Nutter announced today.
The legal battle could wind its way eventually to the state Supreme Court. Nutter would not say if he would impose terms after getting an affirmative ruling at the Common Pleas level, or if he would wait until all appeals are exhausted.
District Council 33 has been without a contract since July 1, 2009, and the two sides are mainly at odds over three matters: the mayor wants a two-tier pension system for new hires, he wants the right to furlough workers, and he wants an overhaul of overtime rules.
Nutter’s last offer, revealed two weeks ago, also included a 2.5-percent pay raise from ratification until next January 1st, then a two-percent pay raise through next July.
The union contends that a 1993 state Supreme Court ruling — involving employees and management at the Philadelphia Housing Authority — set the precedent that public employers cannot unilaterally impose the terms of a contract. The Nutter administration contends that the PHA ruling does not apply.
“Our facts are very different,” said chief negotiator Shannon Farmer.
The mayor says he’s willing to continue negotiating with DC33 even as the legal matter moves forward.
Talks with the smaller, white-collar workers’ union — District Council 47 — are also stalled over the same issues. Nutter is not seeking any such court declaration yet in those negotiations.
District Council 33 president Pete Matthews said this afternoon that the union’s lawyers will deal with the court decisions down the road, but they still want to hammer out a deal right now:
“We told the city, come back with the figures and we want to sit down and talk. We want to negotiate!” said Matthews. “If we take the contract, it’s more of a loss.”
In his remarks, Mayor Nutter said union leadership was running a “just say no” campaign in their negotiations.
Matthews says that isn’t the case.
“It’s not ‘just say no.’ We’re not going to bargain against ourselves. We are in this to negotiate that our members maintain or achieve more. We’re not there to negotiate and get a minus,” he told KYW Newsradio.
“We want a fair contract,” said 32-year-old David Laboy, one of the more than 11,000 workers impacted by the stalled negotiations.
The sticking points, Matthews reiterates, are changes to their pension and overtime rules, and possible furloughs.