By Steve Tawa
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A very public spat between the city of Philadelphia and the Firefighters’ Union over how the fire department handles promotions has now run its course, with a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling in favor of the city.
This long running dispute broke out more than two years ago, when Firefighters Local 22 pressed in court to compel the Nutter administration to fill open captain and lieutenant vacancies.
A Common Pleas Judge sided with firefighters, and 14 of them got their promotions – five made captain and nine became lieutenants.
But city letters to them pointed out if the city prevailed in its appeal, the promotions would be rescinded. They were. After Commowealth Court reversed the lower court ruling, the firefighters were demoted.
Now, the State Supreme Court has affirmed that position, accepting the city’s arguments.
Deputy City Solicitor Elise Bruhle says department heads need flexibility.
“There’s no right to a promotion,” she says, “and that the fire commissioner has the discretion to decide whether and when to promote.”
In his concurring opinion (in which he agrees with the majority of the court, but states different reasons as the basis), Justice Correale Stevens wrote “the existing language of Philadelphia’s Home Rule Charter and Civil Service Regulations, does not serve to maintain objectivity in the promotion process, but instead enables the very manipulation of the process that the civil service system was intended to prevent.”
Local 22 President Andrew Thomas is hopeful that “when a new mayor takes over next year, changes will be made to the Home Rule Charter and civil service regulations that will lead to a more fair, balanced and consistent promotions policy.”