Sept. 25--Hours after city officials announced on Tuesday an appellate court victory in a fight with the firefighters' union, the union filed a new lawsuit in an attempt to keep 14 recently promoted firefighters at their new ranks.
Last week, the city won a Commonwealth Court ruling allowing fire officials to return five captains to the rank of lieutenant and nine lieutenants to the rank of firefighter.
But Common Pleas Court Judge Ellen Ceisler issued an emergency motion Tuesday afternoon preventing the Fire Department from moving forward with 14 demotions until a hearing is held at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in front of Common Pleas Judge Court Leo Tucker.
Local 22 of the International Association of Fire Fighters and the city have been battling in court since the spring. When the city did not fill vacancies in early May based on the then-current promotion list, the union sued.
The city argued that the list, which was to expire May 24, was "stale" and that vacancies would be filled once a new test was issued and a new list created.
On May 14, Tucker ordered the city to fill the openings with the promotion list that was to expire 10 days later.
The city appealed, arguing that neither the Home Rule Charter nor civil service regulations require that vacancies be filled immediately.
"Moreover, nothing in the regulations prevents the city from letting an old list expire so that it can promote individuals off a new list," the appeal stated.
Commonwealth Court, led by Judge Dan Pellegrini, agreed with the city and ordered Tucker's ruling reversed.
The appeals court's decision and the city's eagerness to follow through with its new promotion list infuriated the new union president, Joseph D. Schulle.
Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison said Tuesday the personnel moves were not demotions, but Schulle argued that they were.
"Today, these members are wearing bars on their shoulders. Tomorrow they will not. That's a demotion," Schulle said. "Destroying their careers and hurting their families -- when is enough enough?"
The 14 firefighters have not taken all the tests required to get on the new promotion list, Schulle said. City officials say that's not the city's fault.
"They understood this was all conditional," Gillison said, citing a letter that the 14 received upon promotion.
Based on the new test, the department will promote about 35 firefighters to lieutenant and 21 lieutenants to captain in late October, city spokesman Mark McDonald said.
"In addition, we will select the five captains and nine lieutenants from the new list to replace the promotions that were provisional based on the legal challenge," McDonald said in an e-mail.
"The city is not required to fill a position simply because there is one from a list that happens to exist," McDonald said. "It's a discretionary matter, completely."
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