Northeast Times

Protests drown out mayor’s budget talk

Mem­bers of Fire­fight­ers Uni­on Loc­al 22 held signs crit­ic­al of May­or Nut­ter out­side City Hall Wed­nes­day. (Brad Lar­ris­on)

The earsplit­ting shrill of ref­er­ees’ whistles and derog­at­ory chants echoed from City Coun­cil’s bal­cony, deaf­en­ing coun­cil mem­bers and spec­tat­ors alike on the floor of the ven­er­able cham­ber and ren­der­ing May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter’s ce­re­mo­ni­al budget ad­dress sec­ond­ary to the spec­tacle.

Lead­ers of the city’s three con­tract-less mu­ni­cip­al labor uni­ons or­ches­trated Thursday’s ca­co­phony in protest of what they claim has been Nut­ter’s un­will­ing­ness to ne­go­ti­ate with Dis­trict Coun­cils 33 and 47 of the Amer­ic­an Fed­er­a­tion of State, County and Mu­ni­cip­al Em­ploy­ees (AF­SCME), which rep­res­ent the city’s non-uni­formed work force, as well as Loc­al 22 of the In­ter­na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Fire Fight­ers (IAFF), rep­res­ent­ing the city’s fire­fight­ers and para­med­ics.

Ul­ti­mately, they suc­ceeded, for­cing Nut­ter to aban­don his budget ad­dress and thereby break­ing a tra­di­tion older than the memor­ies of even long­time coun­cil ob­serv­ers.

“Today, we ac­com­plished what we wanted to ac­com­plish,” said Bill Gault, pres­id­ent of Loc­al 22. “We wanted [Nut­ter] to know the an­ger in the city, es­pe­cially the fire­fight­ers. You can’t keep treat­ing work­ers this bad and not ex­pect them to re­act.”

Nut­ter later down­played the scope of the demon­stra­tion.

“It was pretty loud, [but] I’ve heard louder,” the may­or told re­port­ers that af­ter­noon in his of­fice’s re­cep­tion room. “The whistles must’ve been a new ad­di­tion.

“Every­body in­volved knew it was go­ing to be a loud day.”

Mu­ni­cip­al uni­on lead­ers made no secret of their plans to dis­rupt the ad­dress one day earli­er when they con­duc­ted a pub­lic rally in front of City Hall. Among the city’s four mu­ni­cip­al labor uni­ons, only the Fraternal Or­der of Po­lice is work­ing un­der a cur­rent con­tract.

Fire­fight­ers have been bat­tling the city in ar­bit­ra­tion and through the courts since 2009. In 2010, ar­bit­rat­ors awar­ded them a four-year con­tract, but Nut­ter has ap­pealed the award re­peatedly and has not im­ple­men­ted its terms, which are due to ex­pire on June 30. Loc­al 22 already has filed for ar­bit­ra­tion on its next con­tract, claim­ing that ne­go­ti­ations with the ad­min­is­tra­tion are at a stale­mate.

Loc­al 22 rep­res­ents about 4,000 act­ive and re­tired fire­fight­ers.

D.C. 33 and 47 also have been without con­tracts since 2009. Last month, the ad­min­is­tra­tion sued to ask the Pennsylvania Su­preme Court to im­pose the city’s terms on the uni­on work­ers. To­geth­er, the AF­SCME coun­cils rep­res­ent more than 10,000 blue- and white-col­lar work­ers.

In a show of labor solid­ar­ity, many of the city’s build­ing trades uni­on lead­ers joined hun­dreds of mu­ni­cip­al em­ploy­ees at last Wed­nes­day’s rally. Gault and In­ter­na­tion­al Broth­er­hood of Elec­tric­al Work­ers Loc­al 98 Pres­id­ent John Dougherty en­er­gized the throng with fire-and-brim­stone at­tacks on Nut­ter.

“His ar­rog­ance, his de­fi­ance of the law once again re­quires me to take him to task pub­licly,” said Gault, claim­ing that Nut­ter is in vi­ol­a­tion of a court or­der by not im­ple­ment­ing the fire­fight­ers’ ar­bit­ra­tion award.

“Our mem­bers have not had a raise in four years, yet we con­tin­ue to do our duty and put our lives at risk every day.”

Dougherty, who is re­cog­nized as one of the city’s most polit­ic­ally power­ful uni­on lead­ers, called on loc­al elec­ted of­fi­cials to start tak­ing sides on the con­tract is­sues.

“[Labor is] to­geth­er now,” he said. “If you cross us, on Elec­tion Day, you’re go­ing to end up in the un­em­ploy­ment line.”

Former Loc­al 98 Polit­ic­al Dir­ect­or Bob Hen­on is in his first term on coun­cil and was singled out by the uni­on lead­ers as a labor ad­voc­ate.

“[Work­ers] feel that their live­li­hood and the ser­vice that they’ve been giv­ing to the city has been dis­respec­ted for many years,” Hen­on said. “I think labor is go­ing to play a big role in the budget [pro­cess].”

Some vet­er­an fire­fight­ers com­pared their cur­rent con­tract stan­doff to one in 1979 and an­oth­er 13 years later. In the earli­er case, fire­fight­ers marched from their Spring Garden Street uni­on hall to City Hall, but still ended up with 200 lay­offs, said Loc­al 22 Vice Pres­id­ent Timothy Mc­Shea.

Back then, however, they fought alone.

“I’ve nev­er seen all the uni­ons get to­geth­er like this,” Mc­Shea said. “I’m glad to see every­body com­ing to our aid be­cause this af­fects every­body.”

The main event was still to come and it did not sit well with some Coun­cil mem­bers, even Bill Green, who has been among Nut­ter’s most ar­dent crit­ics and says he “dis­agrees with the may­or’s policies on con­tracts.”

“No mat­ter what you feel about the man, you have to re­spect his of­fice,” Green said after wit­ness­ing Thursday’s chaos in Coun­cil.

That morn­ing, hun­dreds of uni­on mem­bers packed the cham­ber on City Hall’s fourth floor hours be­fore the start of the 10 a.m. le­gis­lat­ive ses­sion. The army warmed up by heck­ling and chant­ing dur­ing testi­mony on Coun­cil­man Bill Green­lee’s bill to re­quire the city’s private-sec­tor em­ploy­ers to of­fer work­ers ac­crued sick time.

After lengthy de­bate, Green­lee’s meas­ure passed Coun­cil 11-6 much to the de­light of the par­tis­an pro-labor audi­ence.

Then real bed­lam erup­ted when Nut­ter set foot in the cham­ber, es­cor­ted by a phalanx of po­lice and coun­cil staff. Uni­on mem­bers waved signs de­pict­ing Nut­ter as a clown and chanted, “Bozo, Bozo, Bozo,” above a chor­us of whistles. In time, the chants evolved in­to, “Loser, loser, loser,” then, “No con­tract, no speech …,” ad in­fin­itum.

Earli­er that day, Nut­ter had form­ally sub­mit­ted his pro­posed fisc­al 2014 op­er­at­ing budget to coun­cil in writ­ing, ful­filling his leg­al ob­lig­a­tion as the city’s chief ex­ec­ut­ive. The an­nu­al ad­dress is ce­re­mo­ni­al, an op­por­tun­ity for the may­or to stand be­fore and plead his case to the body that ul­ti­mately will have fi­nal say on the spend­ing plan’s ad­op­tion.

In de­fi­ance of the protests, Nut­ter tried to de­liv­er his speech any­way. He vis­ibly shouted the first few sen­tences in­to a po­di­um mi­cro­phone, but his words nev­er reached those on the coun­cil floor. In ret­ro­spect, Nut­ter spec­u­lated that those listen­ing else­where on closed-cir­cuit feeds might have heard him bet­ter.

Minutes in­to the ex­er­cise and with the clam­or grow­ing by the second, Nut­ter paused and turned to con­sult with Coun­cil Pres­id­ent Dar­rell Clarke. The may­or re­sumed his speech briefly, but then hal­ted for good as oth­er mem­bers of the le­gis­lat­ive body trickled out of the room. Clarke had re­cessed the pro­ceed­ings. Nut­ter soon de­par­ted, too, sur­roun­ded by his se­cur­ity team, with chants of, “Na na, hey hey, good­bye,” chas­ing him out the door.

A half-hour later, the may­or re­sur­faced in his own re­cep­tion room on City Hall’s second floor to de­liv­er his ad­dress in its en­tirety be­fore a much more-ap­pre­ci­at­ive col­lec­tion of ad­min­is­tra­tion staff and news re­port­ers. The staffers greeted him with a stand­ing ova­tion. ••

On the Web:

To view a video of May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter’s budget ad­dress to City Coun­cil, vis­it the North­east Times You­Tube page at www.you­tube.com/user/North­east­Times.

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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