City workers from prison guards to sanitation workers are serious in their threats to strike if the city does not step up its negotiations with the city's unions, a labor official said Monday. "I would hope [a strike] doesn't happen [but] there's really a serious, definite threat of such a strike happening," said Leonard Tilghman, secretary-treasurer of District Council 33 which represents approximately 12,000 blue collar workers in Philadelphia. The union is still in negotiations and no deadline has been set, but Tilghman said negotiations cannot continue as they have if the two sides are to come to a settlement. Union leaders were authorized by members to call a strike if necessary Sunday morning. The union was joined in strike authorization later that night by District Council 47, 4,000 of the city's white collar workers. About 20,000 Philadelphia School District employees have also authorized a strike. Negotiations have been ongoing since June when a neutral fact-finder was appointed to recommend new contract terms. "We are continually hoping to negotiate with the city of Philadelphia," Tilghman said, adding "we don't think the mayor is really and truly trying to handle the situation." But City officials have said that the unions are simply trying to stall. "The whole problem is that the unions have adopted strategy to delay," said the Mayor's Chief of Staff David Cohen. "There is no deadline. [The unions] have no interest in setting one anytime soon." And, Cohen added, "we're not going to sit on our hands much longer." If no agreement can be reached, the city can implement its last best contract offer, Cohen said. Tilghman said much of his union's complaints center on disputes about health care and other benefits, and not primarily on salary issues which he said have long been "on the back burner" because of the city's financial difficulties. "[Union employees have] gone without things to give the city time to get it's financial house in order," he said. "[But] it's getting kind of ridiculous. How many times do we have to go through this?" University officials say the University and the surrounding areas will suffer the same problems as the rest of the city. "The big impact would be on trash collection," said Assistant to the President Nicholas Constan, adding that the University also utilizes a number of other city services. John Heuer, the University's Manager of Labor Relations, said while the University will be impacted he does not forsee sympathy strikes by University employees. "They could sympathize, but they could not take any job action," Heuer said. Police and fire employees in Philadelphia cannot strike, he added. Tilghman said that services far beyond sanitation would be halted in the event of a strike, although he said garbage seems to attract the most attention. "Sanitation is the most visble," he said. "That's the one you can really put your hand on." -- The Associated Press contributed to this story.Comments powered by Disqus
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