State labor movement lines up against the Nutter administration

Lawyers representing close to a million Pennsylvania ­ workers – including virtually all unionized government employees in the state, from sanitation workers to teachers -- have joined AFSCME District 33, Philadelphia’s largest municipal union, fighting the Nutter administration’s bid to impose contract terms after a four-year standoff.

In filings Tuesday with the state Supreme Court, the unions said it was premature for the court to take jurisdiction in the case.

The city filed suit Feb. 1 in Philadelphia’s Common Pleas Court, seeking permission to impose its most recent offer on some 6,800 city workers. The package includes reduced pensions for new employees, the right to furlough employees up to three weeks a year and new work rules to cut overtime, coupled with pay raises of 4.5 percent over the next two years.

The following week, the city asked the Supreme Court to take jurisdiction in the case, saying the issues were too urgent to wait for a decision from a Philadelphia judge, likely followed by appeals.

In responses filed Tuesday, DC 33’s attorney, Samuel L. Spear, contended the right panel to hear the city’s case would be the state Labor Relations Board, whose decision could then be appealed to the courts. 

An amicus statement was filed by the law firm Willig Williams and Davidson, on behalf of 17 different labor organizations, including the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, the  Pennsylvania State Education Association, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and AFSCME District Council 47, a smaller group of Philadelphia city employees.  A DC 47 spokesman, Bob Bedard, said the collective union membership totaled roughly 1 million workers.

The amicus statement said the city was attempting “an unwarranted, radical and permanent shift in power,” from public employees to the government agencies that hire them.