Attorney for Firefighters' Local 22 Richard Poulson Quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the Union's Legal Victory
August 15, 2013
City Won't Appeal Order to Pay into Firefighters' Fund (The Philadelphia Inquirer)
By Troy Graham
The Nutter administration agreed Wednesday not to appeal a judge's order to pay a lump sum into the city firefighters' union health-care fund, ending a portion of a long-running contract dispute.
The administration also agreed to increase the city's contribution to the fund by about $400 per member per month. The city calculated that the cost would be about $69 million over the next five years.
Mayor Nutter, however, called Common Pleas Court Judge Idee C. Fox's Aug. 7 order "temporary in nature."
The city twice has appealed a firefighter arbitration award as financially ruinous. The award would have covered four years, through July 2013.
Oral arguments in the latest appeal are scheduled for Sept. 11 in Commonwealth Court - the last stop before the state Supreme Court.
"We have concluded that it's more important for the Commonwealth Court to focus on the merits of the city's appeal than on this order," Nutter said in a statement. "Should the city prevail in its appeal, the city will recover the money paid to the health fund."
Among other issues, the sides are slated to argue over wages and work rules. But unlike in previous years, the city has budgeted for firefighter raises in its most recent five-year plan, suggesting the inevitability of some sort of wage hike.
The two sides also just began arbitration hearings Monday on a new four-year contract through July 2017.
During the long contract dispute, Local 22's health-care fund has depleted from $28 million in 2009 to $2 million. Members were facing increased costs or benefit cuts.
Fox ordered the city to pay $6.2 million into the health-care fund, as well as $7.5 million into a separate retiree fund. (Fox said from the bench last week that the city would have to pay $6.7 million into the health-care fund, but her written order corrected the amount to $6.2 million).
Richard G. Poulson, an attorney for Local 22, said the administration's decision to comply with the order was "an important first step in repairing the relationship" with the union.
"It sends a message to firefighters and paramedics that their service is valued," he said. "A better message would be for him to withdraw the appeal altogether."