Dreary weather, defiant mood as city’s union workers march for Labor Day

 A crowd stands by in the pouring rain during Philadelphia's annual Labor Day Parade.  (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

A crowd stands by in the pouring rain during Philadelphia's annual Labor Day Parade. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

At Philadelphia’s Labor Day Parade, the man who wasn’t there said as much about the moment as the many who were.  Once again, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who was booed at this event three years ago, was conspicuously absent from the holiday event.

But several union leaders who spoke during the rain-soaked morning event at Penn’s Landing clearly had the mayor, and his long-running fights with city workers and the teachers union, on their minds.

Cathy Scott of AFSCME District Council 47, which represents white-collar city workers in Philadelphia, told the marchers unions are being treated unfairly in Philadelphia.

“When did it become wrong for workers to get a pension, to get benefits to get a decent wage?” she asked. “But that’s what we are faced with in the city of Philadelphia.”

AFL-CIO head Pat Eiding says unions are under broad attack, with city workers and teachers facing major contract struggles as city and state officials seek to conserve tax dollars.

“Leadership has got to get together, get something done, and do what they have to do. Put the proper tax in order,” he said. “The people who work will pay the taxes. It’s about leadership and we don’t see any in this state, in this city.”

The city’s white- and blue-collar employees have worked without a new contract since 2009 as the administration seeks more concessions.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers was planning to gather at the Liacouras Center on the Temple University campus to assess its situation, as the city and state seek major contract concessions before the Sept. 9 school opening.

Yvette Jones of the PFT asked for support from the entire union community.

“We will not be giving back 10-13 percent of our salary,” she said. “We do not believe that this contract should be on the backs of our members.”

John Dougherty, who heads the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 98, said the challenges faced by various unions in Philadelphia have united the local labor movement.

“You are about a new union movement in Philadelphia. It’s a unified movement,” Doughtery said. I don’t think there is any large lobbying source in the country that can compete against a unified Philadelphia labor movement.”

The current mayor was not there, but Council President Darrell Clarke was, giving encouragement to the workers.

“I just want to say that the City Council of Philadelphia is strongly supportive of you,” he told the gathered union members and their supporters. “We are going to get those municipal contracts done soon. We’re going to make sure schools operate in a fair and equitable manner, so folks, stay strong, my union brothers and sisters.”

In city government, only the police officers union has a contract. The administration continues to oppose an arbitration ruling on the firefighters pact.

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