Talks & work persist as city contracts expire

Contracts for the four city municipal unions - representing 22,000 workers - expired last night at midnight. But with shockingly little drama, the city is staying in business for the time being.

White-collar District Council 47 said last night that it had agreed to a contract extension through July 15. And blue-collar District Council 33 said members would continue working during negotiations.

Yesterday morning, Mayor Nutter was positive about the process.

"We're going to stay in our talks as long as it takes," Nutter said. "I expect everyone will be at work tomorrow because talks are ongoing."

But Kathy Scott, president of DC 47, struck a combative tone in a news release last night, saying that the city had not responded to many of the union's proposals.

"Not on a single issue, even the non-economic issues that don't cost the city any money, have we received a substantive response," she said in the statement. "It is our hope that the city will take the next two weeks to earnestly address the substantive issues we raised two months ago."

DC 47 will hold a strike vote tonight at Ben Franklin High School.

Pete Matthews, president of District Council 33, said in a statement that he would not comment on the contract to the media. DC 33 made no announcement about a strike vote. DC 33 spokesman Bob Wolper said the union had not agreed to a formal extension.

Contracts with Local 22 of the International Association of Fire Fighters and Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police are usually decided by arbitration. Police arbitration hearings have begun, but the firefighters' process is not expected to start until later this summer.

Brian McBride, head of Local 22 of the firefighters union, said he did not expect a contract until late this year or early next year. FOP President John McNesby did not return a call for comment.

Nutter yesterday said he wanted to conduct the negotiations civilly.

"I think the big thing here is there's a tremendous amount of respect. Everyone knows these discussions are important to the future of our city," Nutter said.

In a marked change from previous negotiations, Nutter announced in his budget address that the city has $400 million set aside in the five-year plan to fund increases for the unions in wages and benefits.

That announcement was meant to send a message that the city is serious about negotiating - and has a finite number of dollars available. But union leaders have said that Nutter's offering won't cover much of a bump in wages and benefits.

Nutter has repeatedly stressed that pension and health-care costs for city workers put a huge strain on municipal resources. His five-year plan notes that wages and benefits represent 60 percent of the general fund budget. *