This week’s cover story on the deep fracture between Philadelphia firefighters and Mayor Nutter originally was scheduled to be published on April 10. But the weekend before, Fire Capt. Michael Goodwin of Northeast Philadelphia lost his life when a roof collapsed beneath his feet as he battled a blaze in Queen Village.
We did not think it was appropriate to publish an in-depth article about the four-year contract battle over wages, healthcare and other benefits when the whole city was in mourning. Instead, we turned our focus to recalling Goodwin’s life and covering his funeral.
It turns out that Bill Gault, the head of the firefighters’ union, also stepped away from the fray for a few days to concentrate solely on making sure everyone knew that his boyhood friend, Mike Goodwin, had died a hero. And in the days leading up to Goodwin’s funeral, his pastor, the Rev. Marjorie Neal, talked of his abiding faith, his love for family and his willingness to quietly help others in need.
But when she delivered the homily at his service, the pastor boldly brought up the contract fight, and urged Mayor Nutter, sitting in a front pew, to settle the dispute. Stung by Neal’s remarks and the applause that followed, the mayor later said her words were “inappropriate.”
We couldn’t disagree more.
What’s inappropriate is the way the mayor has continued to deny the city’s 1,900 firefighters and paramedics a new contract and raises for four years.
He can’t expect to show up at firehouse openings, budget speeches or even funerals and think he will be treated with more respect than he has shown others.
We recognize there is deep frustration on both sides of this dispute, and have sometimes wondered whether the union chief’s fiery rhetoric was hurting or helping his cause. At the same time we have seen the mayor stand at a podium and stubbornly deliver his budget speech despite the pandemonium erupting around him.
Our series today is the first article on what we hope will be a comprehensive look throughout the year at the animosity between the firefighters and the mayor.
The mayor has repeatedly said the city can’t afford the awards handed down by an arbitration panel. What the citizens of our city shouldn’t abide is a mayor who won’t honor a “binding arbitration” award, and continues to use taxpayer dollars on a costly legal challenge.
At the very least, the mayor should honor the terms of the award, like previous mayors have done, while he continues his fight in the courts.
That’s what’s appropriate. ••