Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s budget address Thursday touched on themes that have been discussed in years past: adequate funding for the city’s schools, fair contracts for municipal workers.
His speech was different from last year’s in one big way, however. You could actually hear it.
In 2013, angry workers from the city’s blue- and white-collar unions shouted and blew piercing whistles throughout Nutter’s annual address. It was so loud that he had to finish his speech in a different room.
On Thursday, a few dozen union members who were allowed onto City Council’s balcony level sat quietly during Nutter’s budget address, with nary a whistle or protest sign in sight.
Pete Matthews, president of the blue-collar union AFSCME District Council 33, said his members are still furious with Nutter. They have been working under expired contract terms for five years.
But, he said, they didn’t jeer Nutter out of respect for the City Council, which hosts the budget address.
“I made a decision based on our relationship with City Council,” said Matthews.
That’s likely not the only reason this year’s budget address was relatively peaceful. Council also beefed up security and limited access to the speech. Union members were told to leave their protest signs away from Council’s balconies.
Also, the city’s white-collar District Council 47 isn’t angry anymore. The union’s members approved a contract with Nutter’s administration just this week.
Still, labor issues were a huge focus of the day.
Matthews led a protest outside City Hall, where his union members chanted “Nutter is a nut!” and waved signs that read, “Mayor Nutter! It’s Time for a Fair Contract!” The two sides have been at a standoff because of disagreements over pensions, furlough days and other contract issues.
Employees of Philadelphia Gas Works joined them to decry Nutter’s plan to sell the gas company.
Council President Darrell Clarke stood alongside the leaders of District Council 33 and the gas workers union at a news conference after Nutter’s speech.
Regarding Nutter’s plan to sell Philadelphia Gas Works, Clarke said he is opposed to the “privatization of municipal workers.” He said he’s also concerned that Nutter’s budget doesn’t include funding to cover the same raises for District Council 33 that District Council 47 recently received.
“I would think,” Clarke said, “at a minimum, you would put the …. raises in the budget.”
Nutter said that if he stowed away those funds, he’d be bargaining against himself.
“We’re in negotiations with [District Council 33]. We have a specific offer on the table in those negotiations,” he said. “I’m not going to put a different number in the budget.”
Nutter said he did include money in his budget to cover some raises for District Council 33. His goal, he said, is to strike a deal that’s fair to union members and taxpayers alike.