Hoping to finally end its haggling with Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration, the firefighter’s union, this week, asked the courts to force the mayor to abide by the city’s latest contract with firefighters.
“We will not wait any more,” said Bill Gault, president of Philadelphia Fire Fighters’ Union, Local 22. “For the past four years, firefighters and paramedics have worked without a raise, risking our lives every day to protect the citizens of Philadelphia.”
Firefighters were awarded a contract on July 2 by a panel of three arbitrators. It granted union members a 9 percent pay raise and protected them from furlough days, while at the same time forcing changes in members’ pension and health care plans.
Under the terms of the agreement, backdated to July 1, 2009, and very similar to a previous agreement, the city would contribute more to member’s health care and benefits, but new hires would be forced into a 401(k) type retirement plan.
Though that ruling was recent, the city and the union have been battling over a contract since 2010, when arbitrators awarded a contract that was also appealed by the city. That award was set aside by the Court of Common Pleas after a judge ordered both sides to return to arbitration.
“They’re going to keep on appealing until they get what they want?” asked attorney Ralph J. Teti, who is representing the union in the case, filed Tuesday in Common Pleas Court. “I don’t think there is any statute … that reads that way. If they want [the law] to read that way, they ought to go visit the legislature. They had their shot at it, now it’s time to enforce the award.”
Nutter declined to comment on the suit, saying that the city’s attorneys were reviewing the court action.
“I don’t know what instigated that, but anybody can file a suit about whatever they want,” he said.
Contracts between the city, police and firefighters are governed by a state law called Act 111. It forbids police and firefighters from striking, and provides arbitration as a way for both sides to reach an agreement.
“We cannot strike,” Gault said. “Instead, we are given the opportunity to turn our issues over to an impartial third party for final and binding arbitration. Then, we live with the results.”
The mayor and firefighters have been at odds almost since the mayor took office in 2008. Members of the police union also received an award from arbitration. It included a provision that allowed the city to furlough police officers for up to 30 days a year. When asked why the administration has fought a settlement with firefighters, Gault said he thought furloughs were the reason.
Because the recent agreement was backdated and ends July 1, 2013, Local 22, which has about 4,000 active and retired members, is due to begin the negotiating process all over again in about six weeks, Gault said.