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.” ••