Nutter asks Supremes to take up DC 33 case

Mayor Nutter said the unveiling of the new effort against tax deadbeats was not timed to coincide with the release of reassessment data. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer)

Mayor Nutter on Tuesday asked the state Supreme Court to let the city and its largest union cut to the chase in the impending legal battle that will determine whether the mayor can impose terms on non-uniformed workers if there is a contract stalemate.

The city last week filed in Common Pleas Court, asking for permission to unilaterally impose what Nutter calls his "final offer" to District Council 33, which represents blue-collar workers who have been working without a contract since 2009.

Now, given the certainty that both sides will appeal if they lose, Nutter is asking the high court to take up the matter directly. 

Last time the question of imposing terms came up - when the Housing Authority under Mayor Ed Rendell wanted to break a standoff with its security officers' union - the Supreme Court took a pass and let a Commonwealth Court decision in favor of the workers stand. 

Nutter, of course, is now fighting against that precedent, so he would likely find little success before getting to the Supremes anyway. And, as fate would have it, the administration will be up against DC 33 lawyer Sam Spear, who was involved in that case and will now have to defend its continued relevance. 

Last week, the city's chief negotiator, Shannon Farmer, said that the city believes it has the right to impose terms when an impasse has been reached (DC 33, for the record, contends negotiations haven't ended) and that the 1993 decision was wrong. She also said the facts of the DC 33 stalemate are so different than those of the PHA case that the city could win anyway. 

But the requested move to the appellate fast lane may be an indication the city thinks its best shot lies in overturning the 1993 case.

Winning the power to impose could be the best - and maybe only - way forward for Nutter in his ugly labor predicament. Winning it soon might be the only way the second-term mayor can claim success on priorities like pension reform and labor costs before his successor becomes apparent.

Three of the four biggest unions have been without contracts since 2009, and there doesn't seem to be much progress in negotiations with the other two, white-collar DC 47 and the firefighters' Local 22.

A favorable decision for the city in the DC 33 case will dramatically alter the dynamics with DC 47. The firefighters, however, have a different negotiating process and are wrapped up in their own legal battle with the administration.