About 400 fire fighters and police officers from across the state rallied at the Capitol today to put the pressure on House members as they prepare to vote on the controversial pension-relief bill for Philadelphia.
Legislators who vote for the bill "need to be on notice. They're on our hit list," Bill George, president of the AFL-CIO, told the crowd that crammed the steps of the rotunda, many of wearing bright yellow T-shirts that read "Vote "No" H.B. 1828."
That legislation as originally drafted and approved by the House allows the city to raise the sales tax by 1 percentage point and defer pension payments in order to help cover city expenses. But it was amended in the Senate and now would the state to take over weaker-performing municipal pension funds and reduce benefits for their members.
The House is expected to vote on the rewritten package Thursday. Without the relief package, Mayor Nutter has said he would have to lay off thousands of Philadelphia workers.
At the rally, Les Neri, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Pennsylvania State Lodge, called on legislators to tackle the sales tax and pension issue separately.
"As it is, this legislation is a disgrace and a shameful thing to do," he said, adding that a vote for the bill would "turn the clock back 40 years on collective bargaining."
Conversely, voting against the bill would "tell everybody that our elected leaders in Harrisburg have the courage to act appropriately and dutifully, just as first responders and municipal employees do every day in the performance of their jobs," said Art Martynuska, president of the Pennsylvania Professional Fire Fighters Association.
Paul Parsells, chief of staff to House Speaker Keith McCall (D., Carbon), said that top legislative staffers worked over the holiday weekend on compromise pension language that would assuage concerns of unions and also meet Philadelphia's needs.
He would not discuss details of the compromise saying they were still being worked out.
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