By Steve Tawa

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A judge has ordered the City of Philadelphia to pay more money into the health and welfare fund for Firefighters’ Local 22.  The union had sought the emergency arbitration hearing, saying the fund was running out of money.

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Firefighters’ union lawyer Richard Poulson filed the emergency petition to force the city to honor an arbitrator’s award.  Poulson says since firefighters and police cannot strike, the arbitration process “should have a swift and sure resolution.”

“They’re not supposed to be litigated in courts for four or five years,” Poulson said today.  “We’re talking about men and women that run into burning buildings, that risk their lives every day.”

The city’s firefighters have been working without a contract since 2009, and because of Nutter administration appeals, their wages and benefits have been frozen.

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Today, Judge Idee Fox ordered the city to provide a lump sum, $6.7-million payment to the firefighters’ health fund, as well as increase its monthly contribution per firefighter from $1,270 to $1,619, as the appeals process drags on.

Union president Joe Schulle notes that in 2009, their health plan had a $28-million balance.  “It’s been depleted to under $2 million,” he said today.

Although the union has also sought retroactive pay raises, Mayor Nutter notes that the judge today did not order the city to pay other components of the award.

Commonwealth Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on the city’s appeal of the arbitration award on September 11th of this year.

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