Update: Legal Action in 4 Cities

This month's column provides updates on legal matters involving firefighters and fire departments in four cities. Three cases involve allegations of discrimination and one centers on a labor agreement reached after more than four years of negotiations.


This month's column provides updates on legal matters involving firefighters and fire departments in four cities. Three cases involve allegations of discrimination and one centers on a labor agreement reached after more than four years of negotiations. • Judge appoints overseer for FDNY hiring...


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Philadelphia, PA, Fire Department harassment settlement. For 40 years or more, the Philadelphia Fire Department has suffered from racial tensions. There have been frequent lawsuits regarding discrimination in hiring and promotions as well as complaints of harassment. However, the latest legal action has been resolved amicably.

A group of black firefighters filed a lawsuit in federal court last November, claiming harassment by racist Internet postings that were made by white firefighters. Allegedly, fire department computers were used to post the comments and they were done while the perpetrators were on duty. Club Valiants, the organization of black Philadelphia firefighters that filed the lawsuit, claimed that the offensive comments were posted on the website of International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 22 and in other places. Club Valiants has long claimed that Local 22 is anti-minority and hostile to African American firefighters.

U.S. District Court Judge Cynthia Rufe dismissed the complaint at the request of Club Valiants after the group reached an agreement with the city to resolve the concerns. The city agreed to provide additional diversity training to firefighters with input from Club Valiants and the NAACP. Further, the city will re-post its policy against using any city computer for discriminatory purposes and pay $15,000 in legal fees.

Boston, MA, Fire Department reaches labor agreement. After more than four years of acrimonious negotiations, Boston firefighters overwhelmingly ratified a new labor contract with the city on June 22. The agreement came only after an arbitrator's decision served as the basis for a deal that the City Council could approve.

The final deal gives firefighters 17.5% in pay raises over five years. It also pays firefighters a 1.5% bonus in exchange for submitting to drug testing, although that raise does not take effect until June 30, 2011. The other raises are retroactive to 2006, when the last contract expired, meaning that firefighters will receive a check averaging $29,000 in the next few months. According to the latest Firehouse® Magazine National Run Survey, Boston firefighters' present salary ranges from $42,000 to $64,000. They work 42 hours per week.

After years of ultimately unsuccessful negotiations, IAFF Local 718 and the department entered into binding arbitration. Earlier this year, a state arbitrator ruled that firefighters should be granted a contract worth $74 million in raises. However, the City Council was not a party to the arbitration proceedings and thus was not required to provide funds to implement the ruling. Initially, it was evenly divided on whether to approve the funds for the contract. After three-way negotiations involving the City Council, the union and the mayor's office, all agreed to the final compromise, which includes cost savings from the original award.

STEVE BLACKISTONE, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a Maryland attorney who directs state and local liaison activities for an agency of the federal government. Prior to his current position, he served in a variety of posts on the staff of the U.S. House of Representatives, working both on the personal staffs of members of Congress and on congressional committees. Blackistone also is a volunteer EMT/firefighter with the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad in Montgomery County, MD.