Scranton Firefighters Owed $10 Million in Backpay

Scranton firefighters are in the news following the release of an auditor’s report into how much backpay they are owed as a result of the city’s unsuccessful 10 year battle to block a pay increase awarded by an arbitrator.

Auditor Stephen Dorwart determine that the city owed the firefighters $10,165,098 as of last August, and the amount continues to climb due to interest. The figure represents backpay from 2003 to 2011 that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered the city to pay.

Back in 2003 the city claimed the state’s distressed cities law prohibited a labor arbitrator from awarding pay raises to firefighters and police officers. Like we have seen in numerous other jurisdictions (North Kingstown, RI and Taylor, Michigan to name a few), local officials rode that “we’re broke” pony to ground but at the end of the day had to face reality.

Some notable quotes from the various parties.

First from the Firefighters Union President John Judge

"It's not like they hit the lottery. When you push something 10 years down the road, this is what happens."

"For years they froze our salaries. If the mayor sat down and fairly negotiated to begin with, this conversation would not be happening."

Bob Martin, president of the police union who received a similar award of roughly $10 million said:

"We had a tentative agreement in July 2008, which was less than half of the Supreme Court award, but the city chose to walk away from it. They kept fighting, thinking they were going to win. Ultimately they lost in the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, the taxpayers are paying the burden."

From the city’s side, Mayor Christopher Doherty said regarding the union’s offer to settle the case:

"The state told us no. The state was the one overseeing us getting out of distress."

Executive Director Rick Schuettler of the Pennsylvania Municipal League, after calling Scranton a “poster child” for municipalities having to deal with arbitration:

"Act 111 [the distressed municipalities act] has caused many of the financial issues that face Pennsylvania municipalities. If there were parameters around Act 111, it would not take away the right to collectively bargain or to have binding arbitration, but it would go a long way to restore fiscal sanity to decisions."

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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