Several hundred unionized municipal workers crammed into LOVE Park at the close of the workday yesterday to warn Mayor Nutter that they are in no mood to give up anything in their contracts.
"There is a fiscal crisis in the country, but we didn't cause it," shouted Pete Matthews, president of Philadelphia's largest union, District Council 33 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, with 9,400 blue-collar workers. Referring to deals the union has made to help the city save money, Matthews said, "They are using this fiscal crisis for overkill."
In a show of unity, leaders of several of the other city unions - AFSCME District Council 47, the white-collar union; Transport Union Workers 234, who work for SEPTA; and Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, whose members include city security guards - joined the rally at John F. Kennedy Plaza.
"While the mayor has shown no interest in partnering with us, he has accomplished a task in uniting all of us as partners," said Cathy Scott, president of District Council 47. "Today, he can recognize we are a force to be reckoned with."
After the rally, which lasted about 40 minutes, many of the workers marched in the rain around City Hall, briefly tying up traffic during the height of the evening rush.
The protest was the first substantial union action to occur as the city seeks new four-year pacts with D.C. 47 and D.C. 33. Contracts for both expire June 30, but talks have been few, and the city has prepared a strike plan. Leaders for both sides have said they don't expect such an action in the immediate weeks.
In his address to the crowd, Matthews said that in March, Nutter - 20 minutes before the start of his annual budget address - called the labor leader to say that the city would seek to keep wages flat, lower contributions to union health plans, and reorganize the pension plan.
The call, Matthews said, dissolved his "friendship" with the mayor and at one point referred to what he called Nutter's "dictatorial threats."
Yesterday, Nutter fulfilled part of his intent, sending City Council legislation that would give people hired July 1 and thereafter fewer pension benefits.
Doug Oliver, Nutter's spokesman, did not immediately return a call for comment.
Throughout the rally, union workers waved signs and shouted slogans like "Shut It Down!"
Revving up the crowd was former City Controller Jonathan Saidel, who is likely to run next year for lieutenant governor.
"Where in the world does it say, if you want to balance a budget, you take it out on the people who make the city run?" he asked.
"We live together or we die together," he continued, "And we choose to live."
At least four other politicians also attended, all on stage with union leaders: City Council members Jannie Blackwell and Curtis Jones Jr.; State Rep. John Sabatina Jr.; and former State Rep. Thomas Blackwell.
"It's a start," said former District Council 47 president Thomas Paine Cronin, who stood on the fringes of the crowd. "But I think they have to ratchet it up."
He pointed out that the city's police and fire unions, whose contracts also expire June 30, were not visible. "This is a fight, and the other unions should have been here, too," he said.