Unions target Nutter at start of mayors' national conference

May 22, 2013 3:23:53 PM PDT
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter's ongoing contract disputes with several local labor unions were front and center for the start of a national conference.

About 100 mayors from around the country are gathering at the Westin Hotel in Center City for the U.S. Conference of Mayors Innovation Summit.

They got a rude welcome, not so much directed at them, but at their host.

The city's blue collar workers and white collar workers haven't had a raise in four years. Their last contract expired in mid-2009, during the worst economy since the Great Depression.

Since then, the city has offered a bare bones contract that calls for smaller benefits packages and pension reforms. The unions rejected the city's last offer in January.

"Our people are suffering. We actually have people living in poverty," said Steve Barron of District Council 47, which represents the city's white collar workers.

The mayor's office says the taxpayers can no longer afford to support the generous contracts of the past. The unions aren't buying it.

They've focused their rage on a mayor they call a clown and a dictator.

Mayor Nutter is frequently on the national stage as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. But the unions say they're not trying to embarrass him in front of his peers.

"No, the idea is not to embarrass him. It's more to bring to national attention [that] we think he is disingenuous talking one way on the national scene and then coming back to the city and running it a different way," said District Council 47 President Cathy Scott.

Speaker after speaker called on the mayor to grant them a fair wage. But most we spoke to said they're pretty satisfied with their jobs and wouldn't want to be trying to find a new job in the private sector.

"I wouldn't want to go try for it. I'd be afraid I wouldn't get one. I'm very happy where I work. The salary's not great, but I love the people I work with," said Philadelphia Water Department employee Cathy Wible.

It's hard to say who got the union's message here. The first event for the mayors' gathering wasn't scheduled until 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, three hours after the protest.

And it wasn't being held at the Westin. It was a welcome reception at the Comcast Center a few blocks away.