Charting a change

Fire Fight­ers Loc­al 22 an­nounces plans to seek a city charter change that would re­duce May­or Nut­ter’s power to launch court ap­peals.

  • City Controller Alan Butkovitz. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • Seeking change: From left, Controller Alan Butkovitz; state Rep. Ed Neilson and state Sen. Mike Stack. Back row, from left, Pat Eiding, AFL-CIO Philadelphia Council president, and former city controller Jonathan Saidel. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • Joe Schuller, president of Fire Fighters Local 22. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS


  • Meeting of the minds: Local officials, representatives and leaders address on Monday the press at Local 22 Union headquarters. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

For the last four years, the Phil­adelphia fire­fight­ers and para­med­ics uni­on has rid­den a ca­rou­sel of con­tract ar­bit­ra­tion and court ap­peals, cour­tesy of the ad­min­is­tra­tion of May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter. On Monday, the uni­on made a le­gis­lat­ive grab for the brass ring.

With a phalanx of the city’s polit­ic­al and labor lead­ers back­ing him, re­cently in­stalled In­ter­na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Fire Fight­ers Loc­al 22 Pres­id­ent Joe Schulle an­nounced plans to seek a city charter change that would re­duce Nut­ter’s power to launch court ap­peals of ar­bit­ra­tion con­tract awards for fire­fight­ers, po­lice and oth­er es­sen­tial pub­lic safety city em­ploy­ees.

The change would re­quire a two-thirds af­firm­at­ive vote of City Coun­cil be­fore the may­or would be able to file a bind­ing ar­bit­ra­tion ap­peal.

Schulle and Loc­al 22’s sup­port­ers hope to col­lect at least 20,000 sig­na­tures from re­gistered city voters by Septem­ber, when City Coun­cil would have to pass a res­ol­u­tion to pose the charter change ques­tion as a ref­er­en­dum on the Novem­ber gen­er­al elec­tion bal­lot. Then city voters would have the fi­nal say.

“The charter change amend­ment will not change the past, but as we be­gin to ar­bit­rate a new award, it will bring fair­ness back to the pro­cess and help re­store the in­tent of bind­ing ar­bit­ra­tion,” Schulle said dur­ing an hour­long news con­fer­ence at the Loc­al 22 headquar­ters.

Fire­fight­ers have been work­ing without a con­tract since 2009 and have been mired in wage and be­ne­fits freezes since then, des­pite twice be­ing gran­ted a con­tract through ar­bit­ra­tion and see­ing that con­tract up­held by an ap­peals court. The may­or has not im­ple­men­ted the con­tract, claim­ing that the city can’t af­ford it, and has ap­pealed the award to Com­mon­wealth Court.

Al­though the con­tract’s terms ex­pired on June 30, Loc­al 22 con­tin­ues to fight for the wages and be­ne­fits that were with­held by the city. Mean­while, the city and fire­fight­ers have be­gun ar­bit­ra­tion for a new con­tract.

Many of the city’s most power­ful polit­ic­al and labor lead­ers joined Schulle on Monday in call­ing for the charter change and in cri­ti­ciz­ing Nut­ter’s tac­tics. 

Nut­ter’s press of­fice did not re­spond to mes­sages from the Times seek­ing com­ment. In court fil­ings, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has ar­gued that the latest ar­bit­ra­tion award would cost the city $238 mil­lion over five years. Loc­al 22 con­tends that the cost would be $70 mil­lion to $80 mil­lion over the four fisc­al years covered by the award.

Monday’s speak­ers in­cluded U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (the chair­man of the city’s Demo­crat­ic Com­mit­tee); state Sen. Mike Stack; state Reps. Brendan Boyle, Mark Co­hen, Ed Neilson and Mike O’Bri­en; City Con­trol­ler Alan Butkovitz; and City Coun­cil­men Bobby Hen­on, Den­nis O’Bri­en, Bri­an O’Neill and Mark Squilla.

The labor lead­ers in­cluded FOP Lodge 5 Pres­id­ent John McNesby (whose mem­bers also would be dir­ectly af­fected by the pro­posed charter change); Pat Ei­ding, pres­id­ent of the AFL-CIO Phil­adelphia Coun­cil; Pat Gillespie, pres­id­ent of the Phil­adelphia Build­ing Trades Coun­cil; Pete Mat­thews, pres­id­ent of AF­SCME Dis­trict Coun­cil 33; Cathy Scott, pres­id­ent of AF­SCME Dis­trict Coun­cil 47; Joe Ash­dale, busi­ness man­ager of Paint­ers and Al­lied Trades Dis­trict Coun­cil 21; and John Dougherty, busi­ness man­ager of Elec­tri­cians Loc­al 98.

“I’m em­bar­rassed to be here. This is our city. This is my city. … The men and wo­men in [Loc­al 22] are pro­tect­ing me. They’re pro­tect­ing you and your fam­il­ies. And we’re giv­ing them a hard time, not giv­ing them a liv­ing wage. It’s totally em­bar­rass­ing,” Brady said.

“It’s out­rageous. It’s a dis­grace and it’s a usurp­a­tion of the will of the people of Phil­adelphia,” Stack said.

Schulle and Butkovitz hatched the idea for the charter change over lunch re­cently. Fire­fight­ers, like po­lice, pris­on guards and pa­role of­ficers, are pre­ven­ted by state law — Act 111 of 1968 — from strik­ing. But the same law grants them the right to bind­ing ar­bit­ra­tion. Un­til 1991, neither the city, nor the af­fected uni­ons, had the right to ap­peal an ar­bit­ra­tion de­cision.

But that year, the state le­gis­lature passed the Pennsylvania In­ter­gov­ern­ment­al Co­oper­a­tion Au­thor­ity (PICA) Act to help Phil­adelphia dig it­self out of a fisc­al crisis. The PICA Act cre­ated a five-per­son state board to over­see the city’s fin­ances. It also amended Act 111 to grant the city and the uni­ons ar­bit­ra­tion ap­peal rights un­der cer­tain con­di­tions.

Loc­al 22 and its sup­port­ers con­tend that the Nut­ter Ad­min­is­tra­tion has used the ap­peals pro­cess to in­ten­tion­ally delay im­ple­ment­a­tion of the fire­fight­ers’ ar­bit­ra­tion awards.

“We now have the spec­tacle of be­ing in the middle of a new ar­bit­ra­tion while the old one is un­der ap­peal, in what this ad­min­is­tra­tion seems de­term­ined to make an in­fin­ite num­ber of ap­peals,” Butkovitz said. “They’ve made a mock­ery of the concept of bind­ing ar­bit­ra­tion.”

“Act 111 is quite clear. The ar­bit­ra­tion award is not to be ap­pealed and yet that is ex­actly what the city has done re­peatedly,” Boyle said. “They keep los­ing and keep ap­peal­ing, know­ing they have no chance to win, mind you, but just at­tempt­ing to run out the clock and delay the in­ev­it­able.”

Rep. Mike O’Bri­en ar­gued that the ad­min­is­tra­tion has with­held the ar­bit­ra­tion award to bal­ance the city budget without giv­ing Loc­al 22 mem­bers raises or bet­ter be­ne­fits. Like sev­er­al of the speak­ers, O’Bri­en noted that the city’s largest two nonuni­formed em­ploy­ees uni­ons, D.C. 33 and 47, also have been work­ing without con­tracts.

“Mike Nut­ter has stuck his hand in the pock­ets of fire­fight­ers and the rest of city em­ploy­ees. He has stolen money from them and he has used it to cook the books to give the city a bal­anced budget,” O’Bri­en said.

“It is ab­so­lutely wrong to bal­ance the budget, or at­tempt to bal­ance the budget, on the backs of the work­ing people of this city,” Co­hen said.

Neilson said that nu­mer­ous state rep­res­ent­at­ives will col­lect sig­na­tures on the charter change pe­ti­tion at their dis­trict of­fices throughout the city. Hen­on and Squilla pre­dicted that the res­ol­u­tion would eas­ily pass coun­cil.

“It’s go­ing to be un­an­im­ous,” Squilla said.

Tim­ing could pose a prob­lem, however. Any charter change res­ol­u­tion must be passed by City Coun­cil at least 45 days be­fore Elec­tion Day to get on the bal­lot. Coun­cil is sched­uled to re­con­vene on Sept. 12, which would leave a win­dow of about two weeks to pass the needed res­ol­u­tion. If the ques­tion doesn’t make the Novem­ber bal­lot, it could be placed on the May 20, 2014, primary bal­lot. ••

For video of Monday’s an­nounce­ment, vis­it the North­east Times chan­nel on You­Tube at you­­east­Times. 

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