Union negotiations are heating up

A union strike could be in Mayor Nutter's future

Last year, Nutter negotiated one-year deals with all four unions, saying that he wanted extra time so that the city could study solutions to rising health-care and pension costs. A health-care committee has not yet released any findings.

With the city battling a fiscal crisis, the stakes are high. Roughly 60 percent of the city's $3.8 billion general fund is dedicated to salaries, benefits and overtime for city workers, most of whom are union-represented.

As part of his budget, which deals with a $1.4 billion five-year shortfall, Nutter eliminated money set aside for raises and is counting on getting $125 million in contract savings over the next five years.

To do that, the city wants workers to pay more for their benefits and agree to work-rule changes. If not, the city will have to make cuts to balance the budget, Nutter said.

"If we don't achieve those savings, then we would have to make cuts in a variety of places or reduce our overall cost, and that would more than likely have some impact on personnel levels," Nutter said.

But union leaders haven't flinched.

"Nutter's plan is to use this economic crisis for negotiations to cut pensions and to hurt our health care," said Brian McBride, president of the Philadelphia Fire Fighters Union, Local 22.

John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said that police officers give enough to the city already, without taking cuts.

"I think we did give concessions last year, in the loss of how many officers?" McNesby said. "We're going to put the best possible case on. We're not going to concede anything."

The police and fire unions can't strike. Contracts for the 10,000 uniformed workers will be determined by arbitration panels. But the roughly 10,000 workers in the two nonuniformed-worker unions can hit the pavement.

Cathy Scott, president of District Council 47, which represents the city's white-collar workers, did not return calls seeking comment.

The last major municipal strike was a 20-day walkout in 1986, when piles of garbage rotted in the July heat. Eventually, Mayor Wilson Goode declared a health emergency and forced employees back to work.

The two nonuniformed unions had their first bargaining session with the city two weeks ago. Police arbitration is set to start this week, and fire arbitration will happen later in the year.