City Union Workers Gathering Outside Obama Event

City union workers are gathering in the streets outside the Convention Center where President Obama is scheduled to appear later this afternoon on behalf of Democratic senate candidate U.S. Rep Joe Sestak. The crowd of non-uniform workers says they are there to call on Mayor Nutter to give them new contracts.

The over 100 protesters are from the city’s blue collar and white collar unions – AFSCME District Council 33 and 47 -- who have been working without contracts since June 30, 2009. They are waving signs that read "Obama yes, Nutter no," and others that depict Mayor Nutter as a "master of deception," or a "dictator." As Obama's motorcade drove by, they chanted: "no contract, no peace."

DC 33 President Pete Matthews said the crowd is there to put pressure on Nutter for a contract deal. Matthews also said that 33 and 47 and retirees represent 90000 voters who will turn on Nutter in primary if they don't get a contract.

"His primary election is six months away," Matthews said. "We want to negotiate a fair contract."

Matthews continued his fighting words, saying: "We're going to fight back with our vote. Remember the mayor in Washington. He started out the same way. He didn't listen to the people. Now he's an ex-mayor."

Nutter shot back that resolving a contract was complicated due to the city's economic woes.

"I want a contract that is fair too. It just has to be fair to the 1.5 million residents of Philadelphia, not only city workers," he said in an emailed statement. "These recent economic difficulties have just highlighted a structural problem with the city budget - too much money goes to pensions and healthcare and too little goes to city services, like libraries and recreation centers. The only way to solve this issue is with sensible contracts that allow the city to spend its resources on programs that residents need the most."

Since deals with the city's four unions expired only one contract has been resolved - with the Fraternal Order of Police, which reached new terms through binding arbitration in December. The contract with firefighters is also negotiated through binding arbitration. That negotiation – which started in the spring – has not yet concluded.

Mathews said 33 has had no sessions since last year. DC 47 President Cathy Scott said her union has not had a formal bargaining session since July 2009 and the last contact was a discussion on health and welfare issues in April 2010.

Nutter has said he needs savings from the contracts to keep the city in the black. Roughly 60 percent of the $3.9 billion general-fund budget is spent on salaries, benefits and overtime for city workers, most of whom are in unions, and Nutter has pledged to cut those costs.

The contract with police provides raises and maintains current health benefits while loosening residency requirements. It also changes the pension structure for new hires. officers can remain in the traditional pension at a higher cost or choose a "hybrid plan" that combines a lower benefit pension with a 401(k) plan

The police contract will cost the city an additional $123.5 million over five years. But the city says they will see long term savings from the pension changes and a change to the way health benefits are paid.