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City Still Trying To Overturn Firefighters’ Arbitration; ‘Sour Grapes,’ Says Union

(Members of the Philadelphia firefighters' union, Local 22, at City Hall today for a hearing on the ongoing pay dispute between the city and the union.  Credit: Mike Dunn)

(Members of the Philadelphia firefighters’ union, Local 22, at City Hall today for a hearing on the ongoing pay dispute between the city and the union. Credit: Mike Dunn)

Mike Dunn Mike Dunn
Mike Dunn is City Hall bureau chief for KYW Newsradio 1060. He covers...
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By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A Philadelphia City Hall courtroom was the battleground today as the Nutter administration and the city firefighters’ union squared off over last summer’s arbitration contract award to the firefighters.

Today, Common Pleas Court judge Idee Fox heard nearly two hours of arguments from the city and the union over the arbitration award.

The three-member panel in July had given firefighters three-percent raises over three years and ruled that the mayor cannot furlough any of them (see related stories).

But in court today, the Nutter administration’s attorney, Shannon Farmer, argued that the panel failed to take into account the city’s ability to afford the contract.

“The fact is, the money isn’t there,” she told reporters afterward.  “This award would cost the city in excess of $200 million (over five years).  The money simply isn’t there, and the panel doesn’t identify where the money is going to come from.”

Farmer’s arguments centered on the extent to which the arbitration panel gave “significant weight” to the state-approved long-range city budget known as the “five-year plan” (see related story).

“It basically ignored that plan completely, which we think, in and of itself, is evidence that it (the panel) didn’t do its job,” Farmer said.

But the attorney for the firefighters, Nan Lassen, said the arbitrators did take the city’s ability to pay into account, and the award resembles the earlier award to police that the mayor did not appeal.

“This is clearly a case where the panel did its job in issuing a final award.  And the city’s appeal is nothing more than sour grapes,” Lassen says.

Lassen argued that the five-year plan shouldn’t dictate the arbitration award.

“It’s impossible for an arbitration award to firefighters or police officers to be confined to the city’s five-year plan,” she says.  “Because that’s the same as letting the city write the contracts.”

Farmer, the city’s attorney, said the mayor’s decision to appeal is not, as Lassen claims, a case of sour grapes:

“Absolutely not.  All we’re asking for is that the panel follow the law.”

Lassen obviously had a different view:

“The city has made a career out of ‘dialing for arbitration awards,’ and this is just the latest chapter in that.”

Judge Fox asked for more briefs from the attorneys, due in early November, so her ruling will not come until some point beyond that.

At issue is the firefighters’ contract that was to have begun on July 1, 2009  and lasted four years.  This dispute is not likely to be settled before the arbitration proceeding on the next contract gets under way, later this year.

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