Firefighters: Keep paramedics in union

A dust-up is brewing between City Council and the Nutter administration over a labor dispute involving the Fire Department.

Councilman James F. Kenney on Thursday said he would introduce legislation next week that would define paramedics as firefighters. Such a definition should allow them to remain members of Local 22 of the International Association of Firefighters, even though the Nutter administration wants to split the 230 to 250 paramedics in the department off into their own union.

A group of paramedics sued the city in 2004 for unpaid overtime, and in 2008 they won. Local 22 President Bill Gault contends the actions to split off the paramedics was "classic union busting," but a Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board agreed with the city in February, ruling that paramedics were not classified as firefighters by legislation. Council's legislation would change that.

The purpose of the legislation is to hold hearings and determine what the administration's reasons are for wanting to split off the union, Kenney said. Kenney and Gault have also raised the specter that, if separated, the paramedics will no longer be subject to state laws restraining firefighters and police from striking. But it's also clear the paramedics want to maintain the wages and benefits that a strong union like the firefighters can provide. 

The legislation is also backed by Council members William K. Greenlee, Bill Green and Frank Rizzo.

The Nutter administration is not showing its hand in this yet, leaving it to the Labor Relations Board. Doug Oliver, the mayor's spokesman, said only: "We believe jurisdiction over this issue lies with the PLRB." 

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