Pew Updates Study on Benefit Costs

With contracts for the city's four municipal unions set to expire at midnight tomorrow, Pew Charitable Trusts today released a updated report on the cost of employee benefits for the city.

Put out by the Philadelphia Research Initiative, the report is titled: "Quiet No More: Philadelphia Confronts the Cost of Employee Benefits. Today's release updates a 2008 study published by Pew and the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia called "Philadelphia’s Quiet Crisis: The Rising Cost of Employee Benefits."

Today's report details the city's attempts to change payments into the pension fund and reduce health care costs, stressing that such efforts will be key to the city's fiscal future.

AFSCME DC 47, which represents the city's white-collar workers, attacked the new report last week before it was even released. Bob Bedard, a union spokesman, sent out a long e-mail complaining about inaccurate information he said the union found in a memo with details of the study supplied by Pew for fact-checking. Bedard also complained about the timing of the updated report, coming out so close to the expiration of the contract.

As part of his budget, which is dealing with a $1.4 billion five-year shortfall, Mayor Nutter eliminated money set aside for raises and is counting on getting $125 million in contract savings over the next five years. The city's opening offers to the nonuniformed workers included a four-year wage freeze and major concessions in pension contributions and work rules, as well as a major restructuring of health-benefit plans.

Contracts for the city's 10,000 uniformed workers - who cannot strike - are settled through arbitration. That process has started for police and is scheduled for firefighters later this year. Unlike police and firefighters, the 10,000 members of the nonuniformed unions can hit the pavement.

The city has begun making preparations in case of a strike.