City appeals firefighter union Local 22′s contract for the second time

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RIKARD LARMA/METRO

Mayor Michael Nutter announced Friday, the day after the International Association of Firefighters convention left town, that he will again appeal the contract awarded by an arbitrator to Philadelphia firefighters and paramedics union Local 22.

“Again, the City is facing an award that burdens taxpayers with more than $200 million in new expenses, and offers the City little flexibility to manage rising costs,” he said in a statement. “The award is still not consistent with PICA requirements, and we will not agree to an award that could jeopardize the City’s financial position.”

Local 22 filed a lawsuit July 17 claiming the city is in violation of
the law for not abiding by the arbitrator’s decision and seeking to force the
administration to implement the contract now twice awarded. They allege the city responded with a written threat stating the union would be punished if the matter wasn’t dropped. Members were joined by thousands of delegates from the IAFF conference Thursday during a march to City Hall protesting the continued appeals.

“It is so typical of this cowardly mayoral administration that they
would wait until late on a Friday afternoon to appeal yet again our fair
arbitration award, hoping few people would notice on a summer weekend,”
Local 22 President Bill Gault said in a statement. “Well, the 4.000
active and retired firefighters of this city certainly noticed – and
we’re furious.”

The contract was awarded by an arbitrator in 2009 and, after a long appeal process, returned back to arbitration. Virtually the same terms were returned again early this month. The agreement issued by the neutral third party arbitrator, called in to settle disputes because workers like firefighters and paramedics cannot legally strike, is supposedly binding by law.

“The word ‘binding’ apparently means binding to everyone but Nutter,” Gault said. “Our attorneys advise us that Nutter does not have the right of appeal. He already appealed the award – and lost. Twice now, a veteran, neutral arbitrator ruled that the award was fair, justified and, most importantly, affordable.  That this arrogant mayor  would once again deny firefighters a fair contract is disgraceful.  We’re the people who risk and lose our lives to save others. We deserve living wages and fair benefits. This out-of-town, out-of-touch mayor deserves nothing but scorn for the contemptible way he continues to treat us.”

Nutter, whose spokesman said Thursday the city is afforded the right to appeal by law, last appealed on the grounds that the contract was illegal under PICA law, which requires contracts be balanced against the city’s ability to pay for wage and benefit increases without adversely affecting the level of service. A Court of Common Pleas judge sent the contract back to arbitration in 2011.

“This contract continues to ignore the City’s ability to pay for these benefits and perpetuates the same conditions that created the financial challenges the City has weathered over the past few years,” Nutter said. “It is unfair to taxpayers to continue down the same path. While we value the work of our firefighters, we have no choice but to appeal an award that imposes exorbitant costs and no methods to manage the impact of these costs.”

Local 22, whose members have been working for four years without a contract and will soon go into another round of negotiations for a four-year contract set to begin July 1, 2013, is not the only municipal union in this position.

About 17,000 of an estimated 23,000 city workers that are represented by unions – nearly 74 percent – are currently working under expired contracts. The city, citing tough financial times, in 2008 negotiated a one-year contract with AFSCME DC 33, a union representing 10,000 active blue collar workers including sanitation employees, clerical staff and prison officers, and did the same with AFSCME DC 47, a union representing 5,000 active white collar city workers including accountants and engineers.

Those unions have not been able to agree on new terms since the agreements expired in June of 2009 and have been working without a contract since. While they are not barred from striking like Local 22, the city can implement its “last best” offer on wages and benefits without an agreement from the union if workers walk off the job.


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