For a couple of years now, Philadelphia’s annual labor day parade hasn’t been friendly to Mayor Nutter. And at a fire station ribbon-cutting Tuesday, union firefighters came and vented their fury at the mayor over their unresolved contract dispute, declaring they’d collect 45,000 signatures and recall him from office (see video from Newsworks’ Kim Paynter here).
I hope the union won’t send too many members around collecting siginatures without telling them the recall provision of the city charter was nullified by the State Supreme Court decades ago.(UPDATE: The union has called off the recall drive, but promises to collect signiatures urging Nutter to implment a disputed contract award.)
But the anger is intense and visceral, matched only by the wrath of the city’s blue collar union, AFSCME District Council 33, whose members have worked years now without a contract.
A reporter new to Philadelphia recently remarked on the depth of labor’s antipathy toward the mayor. I noted that she’s absolutely right, and added that I’ve seen this before.
I wouldn’t want you to do the math and figure my age, but Michael Nutter is the fifth mayor I’ve reported on, and I’ve found that sooner or later, city union leaders have come to loathe every one.
Angry union works circled city hall when Bill Green was mayor, calling him “Ayatollah Green” (a now dated reference to Iran’s leader during the 1979 hostage crisis). Wilson Goode endured a 20-day sanitation strike. Union members pounded the hood of Ed Rendell’s car during an epic 1992 contract dispute. John Street fared a little better at first, but when it was time re-election, the largest city union was supporting a Republican against him. And now, Nutter feels the heat.
This happens because the inherent conflict between management and labor is intensified by the fact that management here has to rely on the struggling tax base of an aging American city.
Over the years I’ve talked to countless public employees who work hard and deserve fair compensation. And to many dedicated city managers who want to trim costs so they can serve the public and deliver quality services.
It’s those conversations over the years that have convinced me of the importance of the collective bargaining process. This may seem like a facile point, but you really do need both sides of the equation.
City managers who want to innovate and economize and improve performance for all the right reasons need somebody on the other side, because without meaning to, they’ll push too hard and hurt people.
And union leaders who want the best for their people have to take into account what taxpayers can afford, and make sure they’re a part of improving government.
That happens at the bargaining table, and right now, it seems feelings are so bitter that bargaining isn’t possible. That needs to change, so everybody can get on with business.
Pretty soon, there will be another mayor to dump on.