By Mike Dunn, Jenn Bernstein
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Mayor Michael Nutter is giving pay raises to a large group of non-unionized city workers, and his aides deny the move is meant to ratchet up pressure on the two municipal unions that have been without a contract since 2009.READ MORE: CBS3 Mysteries: Detectives Searching For Man They Believe Can Help Solve Santino Thomas' Murder Case
The mayor’s move affects 5,500 non-unionized city workers. They will be getting a one-time, 2.5-percent wage increase, effective October 1st, their first wage hike since 2007.
Also, seniority increases that had been frozen are being reinstituted.
“They have no one else to speak up for them but us, but me,” said Mayor Nutter.
But some of these 5,500 workers will face higher health care costs, and all will have to contribute more to their pension plans. Some of these workers will come out ahead overall, others not. And Nutter says he will ask for City Council approval to put new non-unionized hires into a separate pension plan.
Nutter says the health care and pension changes are crucial.
“In another year or so, we’ll be faced with about 25 percent of our budget going to pension and health care costs,” he told reporters today. “That’s before we open one rec center, pick up a bag of trash, put an officer on the streets. (It’s) something that we’ve been talking about now for more than five years, and something that we’ve specifically offered to the union leaders of both District Councils 33 and 47.”
Still, the mayor denies that making these changes for non-unionized workers is a message to the unions.
“We stay in regular contact with both leaders of DC 33 and 47. I remain hopeful that we can conclude those negotiations in a relatively soon time period.”
In addition, the mayor is changing overtime rules for these workers, including the elimination of double overtime.READ MORE: Sharon Hill Borough Council Launches Independent Investigation Into Fatal Shooting Of 8-Year-Old Fanta Bility
Nutter is seeking changes in civil service regulations to allow for furloughs of non-represented workers. And he will ask for City Council approval of a new “hybrid” pension plan that would be used by new non-unionized employees. That hybrid plan is currently an option for police officers.
In the past the non-unionized employees the same negotiated packages as the unions, but both District Councils 33 and 47 have been without a deal for three years.
This group of workers includes roughly 1,100 non-unionized workers who are in the civil service system, and 4,400 “exempt” workers, about 1,800 of whom work in city courts.
For the city as a whole, officials estimate that the cost of the entire package of changes for these workers will be minimal — roughly $17.5 million over the next five years.
What’s driving today’s announcement, says Everett Gillison, the mayor’s chief of staff, is that the non-unionized workers have gone without a raise for years.
“The messages that we’re trying to send here is that the people who’ve waited (for raises) and who have given, it’s time to move on, at least with them. If (district councils) 33 and 47 take anything from that, then that’s what they can.”
The last contracts between the city and DC 33 and 47 expired in 2008, Nutter’s first year in office. At that point both unions agreed to one-year extensions, which expired on July 1, 2009.
“I think the mayor did this to aggravate our members and to show that the non-union people got a raise and we didn’t get a raise. Well, the non-union people actually lost money on this deal,” said District Council 33 president Pete Matthews.
Both unions have been working without a contract since then (see related story).MORE NEWS: 19-Year-Old Man Killed In Double Shooting Inside Port Richmond Home, Police Say
Negotiations appear to have stalled over the mayor’s insistence for a two-tier pension plan similar to what he is now seeking for the non-unionized workers (another related story). Current employees could stay in the existing plan. The unions are resistant to a split plan.