Philadelphia’s firefighters are starting to gather the 20,000 signatures needed to begin a process to change the City Charter.
They want to force the mayor to seek City Council’s approval before appealing a contract awarded by an arbitrator.
It’s a vital matter for firefighters who have been on the job without a contract for three years.
“I’m embarrassed to be here,” said Congressman Bob Brady, who is also chairman of the Philadelphia Democratic Party. He said the city should end its appeals of the contract awarded to the firefighters.
Mayor Michael Nutter says he keeps appealing because Philadelphia can’t afford that contract. But Joe Schulle, the new head of the firefighters union, says the appeals have gone too far.
“The city has appealed the now-expired firefighters and paramedics award three times at a cost of over $1 million to the taxpayers,” he said.
The firefighters are pushing for a charter change to mandate a two-thirds vote of City Council in order for the city to appeal an award.
Councilman Bobby Henon, who was political director of the electricians union Local 98 before his election to City Council, supports the proposal. He said he’s tired of the appeals.
“I think it’s time now that this administration stop treating our first responders as second-class citizens,” Henon said.
Councilman Mark Squilla is predicting unanimous support for the charter change in City Council.
“We wholeheartedly support this,” Squilla said. “We think it is a disgrace by far that the administration has done this and carried it on as long as it has. Now it’s time for us, not only as Council, but the city and the residents, to step up and say they are not going to take it anymore.”
The mayor’s spokesman Mark McDonald issued a statement saying the administration does not support the charter change, but did not elaborate.
Police and firefighters qualify for “binding arbitration” since they are prohibited from striking under Pennsylvania law.
The unions hope to have the charter change on either this fall’s ballot or spring of 2014’s ballot at the latest.