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Refuse Back-to-Work Order, Face Showdown With Mayor : Philadelphia Strikers Defy Judge

July 18, 1986|LEE MAY | Times Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA — Striking trash collectors on Thursday defied a court order to return to work, setting the stage for a showdown today with Mayor W. Wilson Goode, who told the strikers to "try me" if they believe he will not fire them.

Meanwhile, a circuit court judge denied a request Thursday by Detroit Mayor Coleman Young for a similar order forcing 7,000 city workers back to work. A two-day strike there has halted garbage collection, bus service for 200,000 commuters and threatens to affect water and sewer services.

Garbage continued to pile up in both cities. An estimated 5,000 tons littered Detroit streets, while more than 50,000 tons rotted in makeshift dumps, alleys, driveways and yards in Philadelphia, where the strike has gone on for 17 days.

Judge Cites Health Threat

Philadelphia's 2,400 sanitation workers were told to report to work Thursday morning by Common Pleas Judge Edward J. Blake, who ruled that the trash was a threat to public health. Many showed up at the truck depots but then refused to cross picket lines to report for work. About 200 trash haulers appeared Thursday morning at one depot on the Delaware River waterfront.

"Does anybody want to come in and go to work?" a supervisor asked, opening the gate.

Nobody moved. "Ain't no contract, man," one striker shouted.

Blake said union officials should appear in court today to show why they should not held in contempt.

"I'm convinced they are in contempt," Goode said during an impromptu news conference at City Hall. "They should be working now, removing that trash. And I'm disappointed that they're not."

If Blake finds the workers in contempt, Goode said he will write them letters asking them to report to work. If they still refuse, Goode said, they will be fired, and the city will use private contractors to clear the dumps.

'Illegal' Dumps Spreading

There are 15 "legal" dumps, and numerous "illegal" ones spring up as quickly as anyone dumps a few bags, tempting others to follow suit.

Told that some workers did not believe he would fire them, Goode replied: "Tell them to try me. If they don't show up, they are fired."

About 13,000 members of District Councils 33 and 47 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees walked out July 1 in the nation's fifth largest city over wages and benefit issues. Some 2,400 of them are sanitation workers.

The sanitation workers' average wage is slightly more than $16,000 per year. They are asking for a one-year, 13% wage increase, a demand Goode describes as "out in space somewhere. That's not going to happen in this city in the coming year."

District Council 47 ratified its contract Saturday, but some members have stayed off the job in sympathy.

Earl Stout, president of the AFSCME local, was unavailable for comment Thursday.

Goode's political career, already damaged by the police confrontation with the radical group MOVE last year, resulting in 11 deaths and the destruction of an entire neighborhood, faces a severe test in the confrontation with the unions.

"It is unfortunate that when there is an issue of public safety and welfare, that responsible leaders of unions will not instruct their members to comply with the law," Goode said.

20,000 on Waiting List

The strikers, Goode said, could be easily replaced. "We have 20,000 people on the (waiting) list. I can assure you I can hire 2,400 in 24 hours."

Several Philadelphians hauling their own trash to a westside temporary dump believe that is exactly what the mayor should do.

Fanning flies after dumping several plastic bags, J. C. Stewart sat in his car and fumed about the "horrible" smell. He compared the striking garbage haulers to the striking air traffic controllers fired by President Reagan for defying a back-to-work order.

In Detroit, Wayne County Circuit Judge Sharon Finch denied the city's request for an immediate back-to-work order covering all strikers, but called a hearing for 8:30 a.m. today to consider a request for a back-to-work order for essential workers.

The city had asked the judge to order all workers back on the job because it considers the strike illegal.

Key Workers Listed

Robert Berg, a spokesman for Mayor Young, said essential workers would include water department chemists, 911-emergency telephone operators, garbage truck drivers and maintenance workers, certain police record-keepers, food inspectors, rodent control workers and election employees who had been preparing for the Aug. 5 state primary.

"It's a request for an injunction to get specific employees back to work because of a public health, public safety impact," Berg said.

"As mayor of this city, I will take all steps necessary to maintain essential city services," Young said. "I will not allow AFSCME or any other entity to hold the health and safety of the city in hostage at the collective bargaining table.

"The wage and other economic demands by AFSCME are so unrealistic as to be beyond the ability of the city to be able to sit down and bargain at this point," he said.

AFSCME is seeking a 26% pay increase over three years. The city has offered 2% the first year with future increases based on the city's financial health.

No negotiations have been held since the strike began at midnight Tuesday.

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