Philly firefighters contract awards 9 percent in raises

Philadelphia firefighters will receive 9 percent in wage increases and be protected from furloughs under a four-year contract awarded this afternoon by an independent arbitration panel. But they will continue to be required to live inside the city, unlike police officers who were granted authority to move out of Philadelphia come 2012.

Until now, city firefighters were operating under the terms of a contract that expired more than 15 months ago.

The new terms include no pay increase for the contract’s first year – which has already passed – and call for raises of 3 percent a year in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

The city will continue to contribute $1,270 per employee per month to cover health-care costs, until Dec. 31. At that time, the union’s health and welfare fund will switch to a self-insurance program – as did the city’s police union last year - that is intended to save the city millions in the years to come.

Current firefighters will see no change in their pension benefits, while new hires will be able to join a new retirement plan that combines a traditional but reduced pension benefit with a defined-contribution plan similar to a 401 (k) in the private sector.

New hires will also be limited in vacation time, permitted to take off only one week from May 1 to Sept. 30 for their first five years.

The arbitration award was not unanimous. Labor attorney Kenneth M. Jarin, the city's appointed arbitrator on the panel, wrote in a lengthy opinion that he dissented largely because "the panel's findings do not identify how the city has the ability to pay for the increased costs of the award without cutting services." He said the pay raises will cost the city $67 million.

Jarin also dissented from a contract that was awarded last December to police. Under the terms of that deal, officers received 7 percent in raises over five years.

Mayor Nutter is scheduled to hold a news conference about the firefighters contract this afternoon.

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