District, blue collar union 'millions' apart, deadline looming

George Ricchezza, head of union local 32BJ, holds a press conference on the steps outside the Philadelphia School District's headquarters in Philadelphia on Wednesday, June 13, 2012. He said the blue-collar workers' union offered about $20 million in salary and benefit concessions to the district, but no settlement has been reached. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)

Leaders of the Philadelphia School District's blue-collar workers' union said a news conference held on the steps of district headquarters Wednesday that they have offered about $20 million in salary and benefit concessions to the district, but that no settlement has been reached yet.

George Ricchezza, head of 32BJ, the union that represents mechanics, bus attendants, cleaners and other workers, said that he and others from the local have met with district leaders 16 times since February and have three more sessions scheduled.

They hope to get a deal done by Friday.  All 2,700 members of the union have received layoff notices and fear their jobs will be privatized; the layoffs of 1,000 are scheduled to take effect June 30.

"We've been talking," Ricchezza said.  "We believe that we can get a deal done."

Many of the workers earn less than $20,000, but Ricchezza said he has offered a package of savings, including wage freezes and health and benefit concessions adding to about $20 million.

That would cost the average worker between $6,000 and $8,000 annually, Ricchezza said.

"We're millions apart," he said.  "We are willing to concede.  We are willing to make concessions, but there has to be a bottom line."

Ricchezza said he was frustrated by news that School Reform Commission officials had been lobbying in Harrisburg for legislation that would allow them to cancel collective bargaining agreements.  Those efforts, first reported in The Inquirer, are dead now, officials said.

"We thought that we were talking to the district in good faith," said Ricchezza.

Also at the news conference were Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and Michael Lodise, president of the union that represents school police officers.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said that officials are working toward a settlement with 32BJ.  He said because negotiations are ongoing, he could not comment further.