By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — In a dramatic about-face, Mayor Michael Nutter today announced that he is calling off his administration’s lengthy battle with the firefighters’ union over a contract that was to have begun back in 2009.

At a City Hall news conference, the mayor said increased tax revenues now give the city a greater ability to afford the contract award, so his administration has dropped its appeal in Commonwealth Court.

“The reason for the appeals, and the reason for today’s decision, are consistent, and they are same,” Nutter said.  “We could not afford those awards at that time.  We now can.”

It was back in 2010 that an arbitration panel awarded the firefighters a contract covering a period that continued through June of this year.  But since that time Mayor Nutter has been in court, mounting appeals of the award — a battle that kept lawyers busy and provoked criticism of Nutter from rank-and-file firefighters and some on City Council (see related stories).

The current head of the firefighters’ union Local 22, Joe Schulle, said the union is grateful that the appeal has been dropped.

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said today, describing the matter as “a long, tough battle.”

The arbitration process for a contract that was to have begun on July 1st of this year has already gotten underway.  Schulle said he would not speculate if this now-resolved battle would lead to continued ill will between the union and the mayor.

Nutter, for his part, says he has no regrets about waging the lengthy appeal, despite the criticism directed at him because of it.

“We made the appeal for the right reason: we couldn’t afford it.  Now we can.  So I made the right decision with regard to the city’s finances.  This is not a business for the faint of heart.  I don’t take this personally,” he said.

The average firefighter will now receive a check for retroactive pay that Nutter aides estimate will average about $5,000 per member.

Nutter’s decision comes as some City Council members are trying to have some say in future appeals of labor arbitration awards.  Some support a change to the City Charter that would require a mayor to seek Council approval for any such appeal.

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