New bill could take out arbitration appeals provision of PICA Act

State Rep. John Taylor (R., Phila) introduced a bill that would eliminate the city’s ability to appeal costly arbitration award by simply saying it can’t afford it.

The bill, introduced Friday and co-sponsored by Philadelphia Democratic state Representatives Ed Neilson and William Keller, proposes to repeal a lengthy provision of the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority Act for Cities of the First Class that addresses arbitration awards for policemen and firefighters.

The section that Taylor is proposing be deleted states that arbitrators must consider the city’s approved financial plan and the city’s ability to pay wage increases or fringe benefits “without adversely affecting levels of service.”

Taylor’s concern is with the city’s capability to appeal arbitration rulings an unlimited number of times by using the five-year plan as a shield. On Tuesday, he cited the firefighter’s union five-year fight with the Nutter administration as an example of an appeal process that dragged on for too long.

“I don’t think original language in the (PICA) bill anticipated one appeal after another,” Taylor said.

Local 22 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, the union for city firefighters and paramedics who lobbied Taylor to sponsor the bill, and the administration first went to arbitration after the union's contract expired in 2009. The first award was issued in 2010. The administration appealed to the courts, calling the award unaffordable.

The dispute was returned to arbitrators, who ruled again in 2012. The administration appealed that award as well.

Nutter agreed in September to drop the appeal, saying the improving economy meant the city now could afford to pay. Each firefighter was to get $5,000 in back pay, costing the city $47 million.

At Tuesday’s PICA meeting, officials expressed concern over the bill.

City finance director Rob Dubow said the PICA act gives the city financial protection because arbitrators need to look at the city’s five-year plan when considering awards.

“If you take that out,” city finance director Rob Dubow said. “It’s a huge problem for the city.”

Taylor said he mostly wants to open the door for discussion.

“Sometimes a bill prompts that,” when other efforts fail, Taylor said, adding that he wants to get arguments from the city and the unions.

“I don’t expect it to be the end product,” he said of the current bill.

The topic might sound familiar to some. The state legislature passed a massive bill in 2002 that among its many provisions included one that would also repeal the PICA subsection dealing with arbitration rulings. The bill was ultimately overturned because it violated the state constitution provision that limits legislation to addressing one subject area. 

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