In an unusual move for this administration, the city has decided not to appeal an arbitration award handed down in December which gives raises to members of Philadelphia’s police force — an award, that by the estimate of city Finance Director Rob Dubow will cost the city $150 million over the five-year life of the contract.
The city’s unwillingness to appeal the award is unusual since administrators have shown no such reluctance in the past. Much of the shared animosity between Mayor Michael Nutter and just about every union member in the city is due chiefly to his actions, or deliberate inactions, in approving new contracts.
The city’s white- and blue-collar workforce has been without a contract since 2009, and just this week Nutter announced a drop-dead ultimatum for the blue collar union, District Council 33. Union boss Herman “Pete” Matthews told the Tribune’s Eric Mayes that the mayor’s ultimatum was a complete surprise to him — he thought they were still negotiating.
Twice in two years an independent arbitrator has awarded the city’s firefighters a new contract that would allow for increased pay and benefits — and twice the Nutter administration has appealed the ruling. The firefighters are still in limbo, and several members let the mayor hear their displeasure last week at what was supposed to be a positive event — the opening of the city’s first “green” fire station. Instead of being greeted with cheers for his long-range vision and cutting edge innovation, Nutter was assailed with chants and catcalls from dissatisfied union members.
At a press conference on Friday, Dubow dismissed any notion that the city’s decision not to appeal was a softening of stance or a change of heart — it was a decision based on the bottom line.
“From this award we’re getting savings,” Dubow told Mayes. “Those kinds of savings didn’t exist in the firefighters award.”
But running a major city is quite different than running a business, and the bottom line isn’t always the bottom line. Municipal workers aren’t responsible for the deplorable state of Philadelphia’s finances — that fault lies with politicians in City Hall, in Harrisburg, and in Washington — and city workers shouldn’t be asked to shoulder the burden of getting us out of the hole we’re in.
Most city workers work hard for their pay, and some — police and firefighters especially — are hailed as our heroes. All deserve a contract that not only looks out for the bottom line, but looks out for them as well.