DC33 returns to Council chambers - without the whistles

Mayor Michael Nutter looks up to the Council President as protesters, mainly from local labor unions, create too much noise in the balcony level of City Council Chambers for Mayor Nutter to deliver his budget address to City Council. ( CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer )

It was déjà vu in Council chambers Tuesday night, with scores of city workers in green and black jackets packing the seats and lining the balconies.

But don’t worry – they left their whistles at home this time.

With his members cheering him on, District Council 33 President Pete Matthews testified at a public-comment session on the city’s 2014 budget and seemed to call on Council members to play a bigger role in the blue-collar union’s contract negotiations, which have been stalled since 2009.

After his usual harangue against Mayor Nutter’s demands, Matthews said, “It is obvious to us that Mayor Nutter wants to shift the responsibility for figuring out how to fund and run the city to City Council. We think you should embrace that responsibility.”

The last time D.C. 33 made its presence felt in Council was last month during Nutter’s annual budget address, which he was forced to abandon mid-speech as hundreds of union protesters blew whistles and chanted from the stands until Council adjourned the session.

That day, Council President Darrell Clarke, who has been criticized for allowing that raucous affair to unfold in his chambers, vowed to get involved in negotiations. In a neighborhood budget hearing last week, Clarke said he would soon propose an alternative pension plan, a major sticking point in talks, for the two sides to consider.

Matthews said Tuesday he hasn’t seen the plan yet.

A spokesman for Nutter did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The administration says it wants to reach a contract solution that is fair to taxpayers by reducing onerous pension and healthcare costs and allowing the city to furlough workers during financial downturns.

The union says that the proposed contract changes are unfair to the D.C. 33 workers who have gone without a raise for four years and that the city can afford the existing benefits since it has balanced its budget every year since the last contract expired.

Nutter has said negotiations are at an impasse and has asked the state Supreme Court to allow him to impose contract terms. Matthews says he is still willing to negotiate.

Three of the city’s four largest unions are working without contracts.