City will appeal firefighters' arbitration award

A day after thousands of firefighters marched to City Hall to pressure Mayor Nutter to accept their recent arbitration award, the administration announced Friday it plans to appeal, again.

The city’s Budget Director Rebecca Rhynhart said the city could not afford the award, which would cost $200 million over the course of the five-year financial plan. The city will file the appeal next week.

The five-year plan which was submitted today to the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (PICA) –the city’s fiscal watchdog, assumes the city will be successful in its appeal, said city Finance Director Rob Dubow.

“We anticipated the likelihood that it would not include the arbitration award,” said PICA Board Chairman Sam Katz, adding that “the absence of recognition of two sets of arbitration awards …is a cause for concern.”

Earlier this month an arbitration panel issued an award for the firefighters which included three years of three percent raises, protection from furloughs and more funding for health benefits. The award maintained most of the terms of a 2010 decision that the administration argued then was too costly and appealed.

But the city's representative on the arbitration panel wrote that the city could afford the award which he said would cost an unanticipated $74 million in the current fiscal year.  

Bill Gault, president of Local 22 of the International Association of Fire Fighters said he expected the administration to appeal.

“I look forward to prevailing in the court of law,” Gault said. “This Mayor cares more about his national profile than he does about the safety of the citizens he governs or the firefighters and paramedics who protect the city. We expected this slap in the face.”

The union had turned-up the heat in recent weeks. Ten days ago it filed a lawsuit to compel the city to implement the contract. Then on Thursday, while Nutter was in New Orleans for a meeting of the National Urban League, about 3,000 firefighters marched in protest to City Hall from the Convention Center, where a national firefighters’ convention was held this week.

The city was delayed in getting the plan to PICA because it had to factor in its decision regarding the award. PICA has 30 days to approve or reject it.