A Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas judge on Wednesday ordered the city to immediately honor a major health care-related component of firefighters and paramedics union Local 22's long-contested 2009 arbitration award.
Judge Idee Fox following a hearing at City Hall ordered the city to pay into the firefighters' health fund a lump sum of $6.7 million, as well as to increase its monthly contributions to the fund from $1,270 to $1,619.
"Through her ruling, Judge Fox once again signaled her belief that the award was fair and affordable," Local 22 president Joe Schulle said in a statement.
"During this four-year arbitration fight, our Health and Welfare Fund balance has plummeted from $28 million in 2009 to less than $2 million today.
"The judge's ruling will allow us to continue to provide critically important health care coverage for our members, as the city continues to challenge the award in the courts."
Local 22 members have been working without a contract since 2009, when a one-year agreement negotiated at the start of Mayor Michael Nutter's term expired.
A neutral third-party arbitrator through the state's Act 111, which governs collective bargaining, in Oct. 2010 awarded the firefighters and paramedics a four-year contract, which the city the next month appealed to the Court of Common Pleas.
A judge sent the contract back to arbitration, where a panel in July 2012 returned virtually the same terms, causing Local 22 to sue the city to implement the provisions and the Nutter administration to again appeal to the Court of Common Pleas, arguing the city couldn't afford the stipulated retroactive wage increases.
After she denied a request to stay her order, the Nutter administration the next month appealed Fox's decision to the Commonwealth Court, where arguments are scheduled to be heard Sept. 11.
Local 22 on Wednesday urged Fox to require the contract be immediately honored in its entirety, but she only ruled the portion dealing with health care.
"Although this was a partial victory for us today, we will not relent in our efforts to see the entirety of our 2009 arbitration award implemented," Schulle said Wednesday.
Despite the fact Local 22's four-year contract from 2009 is still being contested, negotiations are already underway for the union's next four-year contract, which was slated to take effect July 1.
"Our firefighters and paramedics continue to risk their lives daily, despite the city's refusal to implement a fair award that was arbitrated twice and affirmed in Common Pleas Court," Schulle said.
"Our members have earned this award. Now is the time for the city to drop the legal challenges to the award and move forward."