Firefighters win in binding arbitration

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Misnamed "EFCA" would submit collective bargaining to binding arbitration, too

Last October, when Wilkes-Barre (PA) firefighters learned city officials had increased the yearly compensation for police officers and not firefighters, they filed a grievance. On Saturday they won an arbitration award that could cost the city at least $737,300.

According to the 17-page opinion and award from arbitrator Robert E. Light, provided by firefighters union president Tom Makar upon request, a July 12, 2002, "memo of understanding" between the city and the Police Benevolent Association union during former Mayor Tom McGroarty's administration states police officers' yearly compensation would be increased.

Each police officer was paid an additional $1,300 from 2002-2003 and $1,500 from 2004-2008 as long as they met requirements, including completion of state-mandated classes and employment by the city one year prior to the date of the payment. Since city officials did not do the same for firefighters, the action violated their collective bargaining agreement, according to Light's opinion.

The arbitrator ruled on Sept. 20 that in order to the make the union "whole for the city's violation," city officials must immediately increase the annual wages of union members by $1,500 and pay wage increases withheld since 2002. City officials also are required to adjust the pensions of firefighters who retired on or after Oct. 15, 2002, to reflect the compensation increase.

"This award just affirms that both sides are obligated to go by the collective bargaining agreement," Makar said. "The McGroarty administration gave this to the police officers which, according to our contract, should also have been given to the firefighters. The union only asks that the firefighters be given what they were entitled to and the neutral arbitrator agreed."

Makar said, "The city should have been up-front in 2002 and advised the firefighters of this bonus they handed out."

Neither Mayor Tom Leighton, Christine Jensen, director of human resources, nor Bridget Giunta, the city's administrative coordinator, could be reached for comment Monday.

According to the opinion and award, Jensen testified at a June 20 arbitration hearing that police officers are required to undergo 754 hours of instruction to obtain Act 120 police training certification and are required to be recertified every two years with 24 hours of training per year. She said there are no similar state-mandated training requirements for firefighters.

At the hearing, Makar said he lives next door to a retired city police officer who gave him papers he no longer needed. Makar said he "stumbled" upon the 2002 memo of understanding which increased police officers' wages.

In their grievance, the firefighters requested a "make whole remedy" for wage increases that city officials "secretly" awarded to police officers.

The firefighters' written position states that "what the city did here was, in reality, a 'shell game' and that the city hid the wage increase from the union for five years until the president of the union inadvertently came upon it as a result of a discussion with a retired police officer."

City officials, however, argued that the grievance should be denied since it was filed too late and their action did not violate the collective bargaining agreement.


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