Thousands of Firefighters March on Philly City Hall

The city's firefighters turned up the heat on Mayor Nutter when they staged a massive march to City Hall on Thursday to get him to accept their recent arbitration award.

Wearing red shirts, waving pro-union banners and dripping sweat, they marched from the Convention Center, where a national firefighters' convention has been under way all week. Organizers said the crowd was about 3,000 people, a mix of local firefighters and colleagues from around the country.

"This is about a mayor who has no respect for people who save lives for a living," said Bill Gault, president of the Philadelphia union Local 22, to a cheering crowd outside City Hall. "This is about a mayor who's not even in the city right now. He's with a bunch of other mayors plotting how he can take your benefits away. … This is getting old. This award is fair."

Nutter could not hear the shouting because he was in New Orleans on Thursday for a meeting of the National Urban League. He said he had not made a decision on accepting the award, but he respected the firefighters' right to protest and appreciated "the great work that firefighters and paramedics do."

An arbitration panel issued an award for the firefighters earlier this month that largely upheld the terms of a 2010 decision the administration had appealed, saying it was too costly.

The award included retroactive raises, protection from furloughs and more money for health care. The head of the arbitration panel wrote that the city could afford it.

The city, whose appointed arbitrator said the award would cost an unanticipated $74 million in the current fiscal year, must decide whether to appeal soon.

The union, which represents roughly 2,100 firefighters and paramedics, has been putting heavy public pressure on Nutter to accept the award. Thursday's Daily News featured a letter from Gault that argued Nutter could not appeal again under the state law that established the city's fiscal watchdog, known as the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, or PICA.

Gault's attorney said their interpretation of the PICA law provided only one opportunity for the city to appeal binding arbitration and that it has already used that opportunity.

City Solicitor Shelley Smith said there was no such restriction on the city government's right to appeal the award.

Firefighters at the march said that they had waited long enough for a new award and that Nutter should honor the terms.

"I have an 8-year-old daughter at home," said Sean Riley, 40, who works for Engine 43, Ladder 9 in Center City. "I'd love to be able to send her to day camp this summer. I'd love to send her to Catholic school. I can't afford that."

Contact Catherine Lucey at 215-854-4172 or luceyc@phillynews.com. Follow her on Twitter @phillyclout and read her blog at phillyclout.com.


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