As expected, the city today filed an appeal of the arbitration award issued to fire fighters last month, on the grounds that it is too expensive.
The petition, filed today in the Court of Common Pleas, says the four-year contract adds more than $167 million in unanticipated costs — a higher amount than the $146 million originally projected by the city. And the city’s filing argues that the arbitration panel did not properly take into account the city’s five year financial plan and ability to pay for the award.
Under the contract, the 2,200 members of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 22, receive 9 percent raises, will shift to a new system of paying health-care bills and new hires will be given the option of a “hybrid” retirement plan that includes a 401(k). But the award did not give Mayor Nutter the ability to furlough fire fighters, which he has argued is crucial to manage costs.
In the arbitration award given to police last December, the city won the right to set up to 30 furlough days, although Nutter has yet to use that tool. Local 22 President Bill Gault said the union would fight the appeal.
“It’s a fair award. We’ll live with it and so should the city. They didn’t appeal the (Fraternal Order of Police) award and it’s a shame they’re wasting the city’s money on this,” Gault said. LINK
I want to say right up front that our recent contract, actually (an award) sucked. I have a laundry list of problems with it and I have made my feelings known. But like most firefighters in this department I was resigned to live with the outcome, placing my trust in the arbitrators who oversee our negotiations. (Why I don’t know as we usually get hosed). But the Nutter administration as usual are acting like spoiled children, taking their ball and going home. Their bully tactics and abuse are on full display as well as their outright hatred and disrespect for the firefighters of Philadelphia.
In order to understand the problem you must understand the process. Because the work we do is so important to the overall safety and security of the city, police officers, firefighters and paramedics are deemed “Essential” employees. That means when there is some big disaster or event and they tell everyone else to stay home, we have to make it to work. (or stay there if already on duty). Unlike other employees, by law we can’t strike. We have a process called “Binding” arbitration where both the city and our union sit down at the table, before a panel of three arbitrators and negotiate a contract.
In Philly, the city even makes us negotiate safety equipment as if that’s some kind of benefit. The arbitration process is long, drawn out and painful. The city usually sends in a strike team of about two dozen lawyers paid for by the tax payers to try to show how outrageous our wages, benefits and work rules are. Our local usually has about two to three lawyers paid for by the membership and volunteers like myself who testify on a particular area that they are familiar with. I have testified on numerous occasions on the need for hearing protection for example after so many of our guys retired with destroyed hearing. To this day the department still resists implementing a serious hearing conservation program. That means the tax payers continue to be left on the hook for workman’s comp cases for hearing loss.
99% of the time the police go to arbitration first and we usually get the same economic package they get. That’s because the city always lies about their economic condition and the arbitrators know it. Think about it: When has Philadelphia NOT been in economic distress? The facts are they waste millions and millions of tax payer dollars on pet projects and schemes then claim they can’t pay for essential services like police and fire protection. Also our contract NEVER comes in on time. For example this contract is over a year and a half overdue thanks to the lawyers.
After it is all said and done, after we waited patiently for over a year and a half, after hundreds and hundreds of hours of testimony, the city is now going to court to appeal this contract. Since their twenty-four lawyers didn’t get everything they want, they are going to try to win in court what they couldn’t get fairly in arbitration. But how can they do that Captain? We thought this was “BINDING” arbitration. Silly, silly. This is Philadelphia. Binding only means binding when the CITY wins. In this instance they got shellacked (to borrow a phrase from our economically challenged President).
A few years back, when the city was facing the prospect of insolvency yet again, the state passed the PICA law. (Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Agency). Sounds slick huh? They in essence created a bureaucratic board that was supposed to oversee Philly’s finances and force them to live within their means. They had to file a five-year plan and all that nonsense. Hidden in the law was a section that said they had to be able to pay for labor contracts. The law didn’t take into account the arbitration process or the law that created it. So ever since then, the city appeals our supposedly “binding” award and delays it even further every time. Even an award as weak as this one. When I say weak I mean there were about a dozen topics that the arbitrators didn’t even issue a decision on. It’s as if they didn’t exist.
Now the article says we got a 9% raise. That isn’t exactly true. This is a four-year deal. We got zero the first year because they dragged out the process for over a year. We were awarded 3% a year over the next three years. Now as city employees we are forced to live in the city. 3 % doesn’t come anywhere close to even a basic cost of living raise. We have the highest taxes of just about anywhere in the country. And while we know the economy is bad, we get the same treatment when it’s good. The city has no one to blame but their own bureaucrats for their dismal economic failures.
Yet somehow we are expected to show up every shift and put our lives on the line all the while being accused of only wanting to pad our overtime. The poor cops get murdered and juries won’t even give their killers the death penalty, cheapening their sacrifices. Firefighters are expected to fight fires while Nutter closes companies left and right. We are a shell of a once proud department and that’s the way these idiots want it. You want to talk about demoralizing? Just try working for this city.
We have lost our pride as a country folks. Up is down and bad is now good. We are through the looking-glass and I don’t see a way back.