Unions to Seek Charter Change, Blast Nutter

A coalition of labor leaders and politicians said Monday that they plan to collect enough signatures to put an initiative on the ballot requiring the mayor to seek Council’s permission before challenging an arbitration award.

The impetus for the move is the long-running dispute over arbitration awards given to Philadelphia firefighters and twice challenged in the courts by the Nutter administration as unaffordable. The two sides have begun meeting over the firefighters’ next four-year contract without ever solving the previous one.

Union officials in particular used Monday’s announcement to bash Nutter and signal the labor movement’s solidarity – especially in opposition to the mayor.

John J. Dougherty, leader of powerful Local 98 of the electricians’ union, was the final speaker at the news conference, held at the firefighters’ union headquarters.

“The mayor’s a fraud. The people who elected him in the high rises overestimated his intelligence,” he said. “The thing we underestimated was his arrogance.”

Dougherty was among a who’s-who of labor leaders at the event, including Building Trades Business Manager Pat Gillespie, Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO President Pat Eiding and the presidents of all four major municipal unions, representing the firefighters, police and the white and blue-collar non-uniformed workers.

The non-uniformed workers, represented by AFSCME District Councils 33 and 47, also have not had a new contract for four years.

Among the politicians in attendance was U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, Controller Alan Butkovitz, State Sen. Mike Stack and a handful of state representatives and Council members.

Joe Schulle, the newly-elected president of Local 22 of the firefighters’ union, said the unions intended to gather “way more” than the necessary 20,000 signatures to petition for the Charter change. The unions plan to collect signatures from their own members as well as canvass the neighborhoods, he said.

Council then would have to pass a bill this fall to put a change to the City Charter either on the November or May ballots. The change would require the mayor to get approval from two-thirds of Council before challenging future arbitration awards.

Only police, firefighters and other public safety employees, who are barred from striking, have their contract disputes settled in binding arbitration.

Asked if Council could pass the bill with a veto-proof margin, Councilman Mark Squilla predicted the measure would pass unanimously.

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