City Hall: Council Highlights for Oct. 10, 2019

Philadelphia City Council proposed and passed several pieces of legislation at its general meeting Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019.

Councilmember Cherelle Parker introduced two resolutions: one calling for a fair contract for commercial office cleaners and building service workers, and another authorizing the committee on Labor and Civil Service to hold hearings regarding employers honoring existing contracts.

Councilmember Parker offers her support for SEIU 32 BJ.

“Unfortunately, these resolutions are related around a common theme relative to employer efforts to cut costs and make a profit at the expense of their employees,” Parker said.

Parker referenced three cases of large-scale organizations violating existing contracts, including concerns from Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP) that St. Christopher’s Hospital will not honor the current collective bargaining agreement.

“In particular, (hospital administration) has conveyed that they plan to alter the staffing levels that the members fought hard to achieve and which are critical to proving the kind of care that the children at the hospital need,” Parker said.

The second resolution offers support of commercial office cleaners and building service workers represented by SEIU 32 BJ as it faces a possible strike. The current contract expires Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019.

Before the start of the general meeting, Councilmember Cherelle Parker, along with councilmembers Kenyatta Johnson, Maria Quinones-Sanchez, Bill Greenlee, and Derek Green held a news conference in support of SEIU 32 BJ’s decision to authorize the strike if an agreement cannot be reached. 

“Right now in Philadelphia, there are 3,000 men and women who are fighting for something that most of us in this room probably take for granted,” Parker said. “These people, most of them people of color, are fighting for basic dignities, such as health care benefits and retirement security.”

Councilmember Quinones-Sanchez said she supports the union’s actions as a matter of economic justice and fairness.

“The next time you walk into a building, think about the people in that building, and say to the facilities person, this is about fairness,” Quinones-Sanchez said. “We have buildings where janitors pay more in taxes than lawyers.”

Reverend Greg Holston, executive director of POWER, an interfaith organization that advocates for social change, said it is necessary for people of faith to move the city to better wages for all.

Reverend Greg Holston of POWER Interfaith speaks at the news conference.

“(We need) to rebuild our middle class,” Holston said. “There are thousands of workers serving some of the wealthiest people in the city, and continually they are being asked to take cuts instead of really moving fully into the middle class.”

Holston said he found it shocking and disappointing to hear that the wealthiest people in the city are not willing to share that wealth with the rest of Philadelphia.

Barbara Wright, a member of 32BJ, said the key issues in the contract negotiations were workers keeping their medical package, being able to retire with dignity by an increase in the amount put into the pension plan, and a fair raise.

“Since I’ve been in the industry, I have negotiated three contracts,” Wright said. “Two where we threatened to strike, but we didn’t have to because we managed to balance the scale and get a fair living wage.”

Wright said that the most significant issue to her is the medical package.

“It’s important because I am one of the members who has a preexisting condition and without that medical package, I would not be able to afford health care,” Wright said.

Wright added that while the amount of money she makes is not bad, she knows more is available.

“People should know that it’s hard out here,” Wright said. “I know that the owners can do better. All we’re asking for is a cut of the pie. When I retire, I want to retire with dignity.”

Hospital Closures

Councilmember Helen Gym introduced a bill to protect hospital patients and staff during closures.

The bill comes in response to the closing of Hahnemann Hospital in June 2019 and would require that any hospital preparing to close plan for a safe transition for patients and staff.

“Over the summer, the for-profit, hedge-fund owner of Hahnemann Hospital rocked this city with the abrupt closure of a vital Philadelphia institution that served tens of thousands of patients and employed thousands of workers,” Gym said.

Explaining the impetus behind the bill, Gym said Hahnemann’s closure announcement was made in June and the hospital was closed by mid-September, leaving the city out of a decision that impacts the lives of the city’s neediest residents.

“This bill effectively codifies into law and existing 1969 Board of Health regulation that requires advanced notice for closure of hospitals and medical facilities,” Gym said.

The bill will require six months advance notice of a hospital closure and requires planning that ensures the proper and safe transitions for patients and help staff members land on their feet, Gym said.

I-95 Construction

Councilmember Al Taubenberger introduced a resolution authorizing the committee on Streets and Services to hold a hearing regarding the reconstruction work on Interstate 95, as well as the entire 95 Revive plan.

“This work is far behind schedule,” Taubenberger said. “The construction is frustrating many people, and I hope these hearings alleviate some of this so we have a clear understanding (of the issues).”

Taubenberger said the delays are inconveniencing commuters on a daily basis and the gridlock is leading to accidents, road-rage, and frayed nerves.

“It is my sincere hope that these hearings will serve as a catalyst to get the work done and those of us who sit in I-95 traffic deserve better than this,” Taubenberger said.

Department of Human Services Child Separation Resolution

Councilmember David Oh introduced a resolution authorizing the establishment of a special committee regarding child separation in Philadelphia which would review procedures and due process rights of families.

During the public comment section of the meeting, several parents and grandparents spoke of their experiences with DHS and their support of the resolution authorizing the hearings.

When the resolution passed, many who had commented and remained at the meeting broke into cheers and applause.

After the meeting, Oh said the purpose of the resolution was to hold a hearing to review the policies and procedures of DHS. He also added that the language of the bill had been softened to make it more palatable to entice support from other members of council.

Of the changes, Oh said the word “investigate” contained in the original version of the bill might connote something negative, so the word was changed to “examine.”

Lawrence McGlynn is a recent graduate of Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication where he earned a Master’s in Journalism. For the next several months he will be reporting out of City Hall on various council and committee meetings, the city’s budget, and how these impact the daily lives of Philadelphians.

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