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Mayor Edward Rendell, unable to come to a contract agreement with city unions, imposed his "last, best contract offer" last night and told city supervisors to be ready for a strike. But union leaders, representing 15,000 of the city's blue-collar and white-collar workers, ordered workers to report for work this morning and said they still have options to explore. "What we have to do is clearly fight," said Thomas Cronin, president of District Council 47 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the white-collar union. "It's a question of what weapons we use." Rendell said in a press conference last night that the unions had rejected his offer and he had rejected a counterproposal they presented yesterday morning. That contract would have left the city with a $300 million deficit after four years, he said. Rendell's four-year contract imposes a two-year wage freeze followed by a two percent raise in the third year and a three percent raise in the fourth. It also forces the unions to give up control of their health plans, reduce sick days and holidays and do away with a ban on layoffs. "We believe this is in every way a fair contract and it's an important contract for the city of Philadelphia to obtain," Rendell said. "It will allow Philadelphia to regain its economic viability." By implementing the contract, he added, the city will begin saving the $2 million it says the new contract represents. Rendell insisted he is not trying to "hammer" the unions. "In the last four or five days . . . I have been approached in the street by citizens who say 'Sit in there' . . . and 'Stick to your guns,' " he said. "Some say 'Hang in there and kill them.' I don't want to kill this union. I don't want to kill city workers." Union officials said there are no negotiations in progress. Rendell said he is willing to negotiate at any time. David Cohen, the Mayor's Chief of Staff, said union members will not notice the effects of the new contract for a few weeks. The number of sick days will immediately drop from 20 to 12 per year, he said, and the first holiday no longer belonging to union members is Election Day, he said. Cohen stressed that workers will receive "uninterrupted [health] coverage." Starting November 1, workers will be covered under one of the city's three Health Maintenance Organizations or Blue Cross/Blue Shield. The next payment into the union's current health plan, scheduled for October 13, will not be paid by the city. The city will also not make payments into its legal plan beginning for the month of October, he added. Cronin, cheered on by union members at the District Council 33 headquarters last night, called Rendell's action "despicable." Cronin said the union's options include legal recourse, continued negotiations or a possible strike, but he would not be more specific and he would not set a timetable for any action. "We'll take it one day at a time," he said. Many city workers said last night they are ready to take action against their employer. "If it was up to me we'd be out [on strike] now," said Water Department employee John Gallagher, who celebrates his eight year anniversary as a city employee today. "Maybe it's better that there are cooler heads ahead." Another Water Department employee, Kermit Hackney, said he is upset that Rendell wants to settle the city's financial problems on the backs of the unions. "Most of DC33 put [Rendell] in office, and now he wants to take from us," Hackney said. "We did not put this city into a deficit. Why do we have to pay for it?" Staff writer Roxanne Patel contributed to this story.

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