PHILADELPHIA — Unionized city workers here who provide essential public services, excluding police and fire personnel, are now in their third month working without a contract. The previous four-year contracts expired June 30 and the city’s representatives have balked at negotiating, although the unions had been requesting it since early this year.

After two contract extensions, union members are now working day-to-day. The workers are represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) District Councils 33 and 47 — blue collar and clerical by DC 33, administrative and professional by DC 47. Firefighters and police officers are in separate organizations.

A major issue in the 2000 contract negotiations was the city’s demand to take over the union-administered health and welfare funds, which provide better benefits, at lower cost, than the city’s plan. That was defeated. However, the previous four-year contracts included city contributions to the union health and welfare funds that did not keep up with rising insurance premiums. One result was that DC 47 for the first time began payroll deductions to support its fund.

For months, the mayor and city council have been embroiled in developing a new budget, required by June 30. This process became an excuse for not negotiating with the unions. When a new budget was finally adopted, it included tax giveaways to business, and a miniscule reduction in the city wage tax. Following adoption, the city announced that a total of $109,000 was available for wage and benefit increases for all city workers.

Last month, an arbitration panel, after reviewing the city’s financial status, awarded what is regarded as a relatively good package to the police. This was seen as an indication that funds are, in fact, available. But in the first negotiating session on basic economic issues Aug. 19, the city made a proposal that AFSCME characterized as unacceptable and rejected. At press time, no further negotiations were scheduled and DC 33 and 47 members are continuing to work, although union preparations for a possible strike have been completed.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.

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