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A war is brewing between AFSCME's District Council 33 and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter that Sean Collins Walsh of the Philadelphia Daily News says "could change the nature of labor negotiations across the state." Following stalled contract negotiations, Mayor Nutter first wanted the Common Pleas Court to allow him to force a new contract onto the thousands of blue-collar workers represented by District Council 33, and subsequently made a special request to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court with the same goal in mind.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter
Michael Nutter
Nutter has said that there's no point in continuing negotiations because no agreement will be reached. But if the PA Supreme Court ruled that mayors and other elected executives can unilaterally determine that labor negotiations cannot end in agreement and impose their proposal onto the union, wouldn't that call into question the future of collective bargaining and unionization in Pennsylvania as a whole?

President of District Council 33 Peter Matthews thinks so, and is now comparing Mayor Nutter to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker who killed collective bargaining for most public unions in his state and referred to collective bargaining as an "expensive entitlement."

Matthews says of Nutter, "He's gone full Scott Walker on public-sector workers," and, "This is the Scott Walker of the East. ... You have a Democratic mayor who's coming out against unions." Speaking at a press conference, Matthews also said, "Mayor Nutter has now escalated the dispute between District Council 33 and his administration. He has broken off negotiations, even though District Council 33 remains willing to continue talks, and gone outside of the collective bargaining process in search of a PA Supreme Court ruling allowing him to impose his 'last best offer,' thereby violating over 40 years of collective bargaining rights granted to all public sector unions in Pennsylvania."

Peter Matthews
When I first read about this I thought it might be hyperbolic, but really, if Mayor Nutter got what he's seeking from the PA Supreme Court there would necessarily be a drastic power shift against the unions in how collective bargaining works in PA.

In another piece, Sean Collins Walsh wrote that the last time a Philadelphia Mayor attempted to impose contract terms on a union it was Ed Rendell, and then a Commonwealth Court ruled in favor of the union and the Supreme Court did not take on the case, letting the pro-union decision be the final word on the subject. Walsh also points out that the lawyer defending DC 33 now was also part of this earlier case.

Another good sign for DC 33 came when they were backed up by other unionized public employees across the state. From Bob Warner of the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Lawyers representing close to one million Pennsylvania workers - including virtually all unionized government employees, from highway laborers to teachers - have joined Philadelphia's largest municipal union in asking the state Supreme Court to reject Mayor Nutter's bid to impose contract terms after a four-year standoff. ... The law firm Willig, Williams & Davidson filed a friend-of-the-court statement on behalf of 17 labor organizations, including the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and AFSCME District Council 47, a smaller group of Philadelphia city employees. D.C. 47 spokesman Bob Bedard said the collective union membership totaled roughly one million workers."

As much as Mayor Nutter and his spokespeople deny that he's going after collective bargaining in general despite the clear implications of his request, it's no longer the DC 33 president making that contention alone, all of public-sector unionized labor across Pennsylvania has his back.

Originally posted to ProgressivePatriotPA on Thu Feb 28, 2013 at 02:47 PM PST.

Also republished by DKos Pennsylvania and In Support of Labor and Unions.

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