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City works to extend union contracts as COVID-19 cases top 1,000

Philadelphia officials on Monday announced a 1-year contract extension with the city's police union and said they are in talks with labor groups representing other city workers in an attempt to avoid extended negotiations during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Mayor Jim Kenney said agreements with the four unions that represent city workers were set to expire in June, when the virus may still be wreaking havoc.

"We did this now so our employees could focus on the health crisis at hand rather than months of contract negotiations," Kenney said during his daily press briefing.

The extension with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 includes a 2.5 percent pay increase for officers and smaller increases for members who work in the sheriff's office and for the register of wills.

Police officers will notice the pay spike starting May 1, along with a $750 bonus, according to the FOP. The city will also kick in $4.5 million to an employee retirement fund, the union said.

Under the agreement, accusations of harassment and discrimination will be handled by the Mayor's Office of Labor Relations, rather than the police department itself.

Kenney said he is still planning to push for disciplinary changes and other reforms when the extension expires next year.

Officials are trying to hammer out similar one-year extensions with unions representing firefighters, paramedics and other city workers.

Coronavirus cases topped 1,000 for the first time, as city leaders reported 182 new cases, bringing Philadelphia's total to 1,073. One person died—a woman in her 80s with an underlying medical condition—raising the death toll in the city to nine.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said he expects the situation to worsen over the next two weeks, but he's not sure when the virus will hit its peak, or if it will rise to a level seen in other places, such as New York and parts of Italy. 

"If our social distancing is very effective, we may not see a surge at all," Farley said.

The city's COVID-19 small business relief fund, which was unveiled only a week ago, is no longer accepting applications for businesses that have revenues above $500,000 as of 5 p.m. Monday, Kenney said.

It was a decision made due to "extraordinary demand and limited resources," his office said. Applications for the smallest grant, $5,000 for businesses that bring in less than half-a-million, will be reviewed only after additional money is available.

A COVID-19-related fund to help early education providers was launched Monday with $7 million from the William Penn Foundation and Vanguard.

Meanwhile, Josh Harris and David Blitzer, the Sixers owners who reversed course last week after a public outcry over their plan to cut pay for some team employees, have agreed to purchase 20,000 boxes of food for city residents through Philabundance.

The Sixers organization is also pledging to buy 10,000 Chromebooks for School District of Philadelphia students. Last week, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and his family donated $7 million to the same cause. 



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