Northeast Times

Activist and lawyer lead fire protest against Nutter

A couple of Park­wood guys, John Fritz and John Mul­hol­land, de­cided to pub­licly show their sup­port last week for mem­bers of In­ter­na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Fire Fight­ers Loc­al 22.

Fritz and Mul­hol­land say they are dumb­foun­ded that May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter has ap­pealed the uni­on’s con­tract three times — twice awar­ded in ar­bit­ra­tion and once ap­proved by a Com­mon Pleas Court judge. 

“I call him the ap­peals may­or,” Fritz said.

“The may­or of Phil­adelphia does not speak for all Phil­adelphi­ans,” Mul­hol­land said.

Fritz, a long­time com­munity act­iv­ist, and Mul­hol­land, a law­yer, gathered on the cold late af­ter­noon of Jan. 3 in Love Park in Cen­ter City. They were joined by some act­ive fire­fight­ers, Loc­al 22 pres­id­ent Bill Gault and mem­bers of his board and Di­ane Neary, whose hus­band, Robert, died in the line of duty last spring.

The group marched to the main en­trance of City Hall, car­ry­ing signs with mes­sages such as, “May­or Nut­ter. You are not above the law.”

Fritz thanked fire­fight­ers for their ser­vice, adding that they’ve earned their pay raise “many times over.” He also read the Fire­fight­ers 23rd Psalm:

The Lord is my Chief, He has chosen me to serve. He leads me to still the fires ra­ging around me. He re­stores my soul to fight even when all seems lost. He has pre­pared for me a place in life, de­voted to ser­vice, hon­or, joy and fel­low­ship. He ap­points my soul with cour­age in the pres­ence of my en­emy fire. Yes, even though I have chosen to walk through life in the shad­ow of death, I will fear no fire, for he is with me. His strength will com­fort me. And when life’s fi­nal alarm for me has soun­ded, I will dwell in the sta­tion house of the Lord forever.

On Oct. 15, 2010, an ar­bit­er is­sued a four-year con­tract award cov­er­ing 2,100 fire­fight­ers that in­cluded a pay freeze in the first year and 3-per­cent pay in­creases in each of the next three years. The ar­bit­er’s de­cision pro­hib­ited the city from be­ing al­lowed to fur­lough fire­fight­ers for the first time. (The city had sought fur­loughs of up to 30 days a year.) 

The city ap­pealed, and in Ju­ly 2012, a three-mem­ber ar­bit­ra­tion pan­el largely up­held the con­tract. 

The city ap­pealed again. In Novem­ber, Com­mon Pleas Court Judge Idee C. Fox up­held the con­tract. The city is ap­peal­ing that de­cision to Pennsylvania Com­mon­wealth Court.

Gault, who thanked Fritz and Mul­hol­land for or­gan­iz­ing the rally, said the city is not be­ing fair and is dis­respect­ing fire­fight­ers and para­med­ics, who are also part of Loc­al 22. All cit­izens, he said, should be angered by Nut­ter’s shoddy treat­ment of those first re­spon­ders.

“We de­mand bet­ter treat­ment,” he said.

To the city, it’s a mat­ter of fin­ances.

In a writ­ten state­ment, may­or­al spokes­man Mark Mc­Don­ald said, “The City has ap­pealed the ar­bit­ra­tion be­cause it adds more than $200 mil­lion in new costs in the Five Year Plan, mon­ies that the city does not have.”

Loc­al 22 sup­port­ers sang Amer­ica (My Coun­try, ‘Tis of Thee) out­side City Hall as they stood near 11 plaques em­bed­ded in the side­walk in memory of the fire­fight­ers who were killed in 1954 in an ex­plo­sion at a chem­ic­al labor­at­ory near Fifth and Berks streets.

Neary said her hus­band was an­noyed by the city’s ac­tions re­gard­ing the con­tract. Lt. Robert P. Neary and Fire­fight­er Daniel Sweeney died last April in the af­ter­math of a fire at an aban­doned ware­house in Kens­ing­ton. They were check­ing the con­di­tions of a fur­niture store next door when the roof col­lapsed, killing both of them.

Di­ane Neary, a Somer­ton res­id­ent, de­scribed the fire de­part­ment as a “fam­ily,” and she was at the rally to show solid­ar­ity. She noted that Loc­al 22 mem­bers are go­ing without raises while the cost of liv­ing con­tin­ues to skyrock­et.

“Everything keeps go­ing up ex­cept for your paycheck,” she said.

Ther­ese Garvin, pres­id­ent of the PFD Fam­il­ies As­so­ci­ation, said fire­fight­ers have the char­ac­ter to risk death to pro­tect the cit­izens of Phil­adelphia. She said mor­ale is low in the de­part­ment be­cause of the city’s ac­tions.

Garvin, whose hus­band, Pete, is a fire­man, said her mem­bers star­ted out mad and are now sad.

“We are saddened that a man who is hus­band, fath­er, son and prob­ably broth­er named May­or Nut­ter could care so little for our fam­il­ies,” she said.

The con­tract in con­ten­tion is sched­uled to ex­pire on June 30 of this year, so Gault and his team will soon ne­go­ti­ate with the city on an­oth­er con­tract. He wants the city to ac­cept the three in­de­pend­ent de­cisions that have already been made.

“Hon­or the bind­ing ar­bit­ra­tion award,” he said. “Bind­ing means bind­ing.” ••

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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