With contracts for the four municipal unions due to expire one week from today, the Pew Charitable Trusts is planning to release this week an updated version of a study released with the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia in January 2008, warning about the rising costs of employee benefits for those unions. That report, entitled "Philadelphia's Quiet Crisis," riled union leaders, especially District Council 47 and Local 22 of the International Association of Fire Fighters. Those unions attacked the report in the Daily News, denying that there was a crisis and calling the research "fatally flawed." Pew said the city needed to reign in benefits or they would consume 28 percent of the city's annual budget by 2012.
District Council 47 isn't waiting for the updated report to attack it. Bob Bedard, a union spokesman, sent out a long e-mail Sunday complaining about inaccurate information he said the union found in a partial draft of the report 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. "It can only have the impact of coloring the discussion," Bedard told PhillyClout.
We asked if the timing might inform the discussion, since union benefits are expected to be an important topic during the current contract negotiations. Mayor Nutter is seeking $125 million in labor savings in the next five years. Bedard said he didn't want to guess at Pew's motives but again called the timing "suspect."
We passed along Bedard's concerns to Cindy Jobbins, Pew's communication's officer, who said the unions have not seen the report. Here is the rest of her response: "It is The Pew Charitable Trusts’ practice not to discuss our research findings until they have been released publicly, and we urge others to refrain from assessing the research until they have fully reviewed it. Our report, coming out later this week, looks at the finances of pensions and health care for city workers at a time when the two topics are the focus of attention in Harrisburg and City Hall. We hope that our unbiased, fact-based research will inform the discussions and increase public understanding of this serious issue."