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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 officers were given their new positions after the International Association of Firefighters and Paramedics Local 22 sued the city for stalling on a set of promotions. The union won the court case and the department promoted the officers based off of a pre-assigned promotions list.
However, the city appealed the decision, arguing that the fire commissioner should be allowed to make promotions at his discretion. An appellate court agreed and reversed the ruling on September 18.
During the appeal, the fire department administered a new round of promotion tests for the lieutenant and captain positions. Since the 14 officers had already been promoted, the union says, the department excluded them from consideration.
“It’s just not fair,” said Local 22 rep Edward Marks. “There was a test that was given in early June and a new list has been posted from the lieutenant and captain’s test. And the fellas that are being demoted tomorrow weren’t eligible.”
City officials dispute that claim. Mark McDonald, Mayor Michael Nutter’s press secretary, says a number of the officers took the new test — some didn’t finish and others either failed or scored poorly.
McDonald says the personnel changes are being made to select the “best and brightest” for the captain and lieutenant positions.
The department is now using that new list of candidates to fill those 14 positions.
Gillison said, “Those individuals who on May 30th were told that if you continue and if you want this promotion subject to the Commonwealth’s review, if that is reversed, you will return to your previous status. In essence that’s where we are it was never the city’s position that this should have ever been taken at all we don’t play with people’s lives that way.”
Turns out, a judge ordered the city to grant the promotions…and it did. But the city appealed and a higher court overturned the decision.
The unions and their allies are outraged, claiming the mayor is simply being vindictive.
“What they intend to do is to use this as a way to punish people, again,” said Jim Kenney (D) of the Philadelphia City Council. ” I don’t know to what end they want to continue to punish people because I know the fact that these demoted people, if they have to go into a burning building to save the mayor and fire comissioner, they would do it.”
“Without these demotions, there are currently 39 openings for lieutenant, and 21 openings for captains,” said Joseph Schulle of Firefighters Union Local 22. “Why would the city demote with all these openings. The city’s position is: ‘Because we can.’”
Mayor Nutter’s top aides deny there’s any revenge factor. They’ve simply chosen to promote from an updated eligibility list.
“Now there’s a new list in effect, and so people will be promoted off the new list,” said Philadelphia Solicitor Shelly Smith.
“This is not an anti-firefighter issue,” said Everett Gillison, Philadelphia’s deputy mayor. “This is only about maintaining management rights, which, I believe, we are supposed to have in order to do this job the way we need to do it.”
Also on STATter911 …
- UPDATED: Detroit sends out order closing 15 fire companies. 200 firefighters to be demoted. – July 2, 2012
- Baltimore union confirms two firefighters behind toilet based artwork of mayor & fire chief. Dispute within IAFF local over handling of the incident. – August 7, 2012
- Bah! Humbug! Did DC’s mayor play Scrooge for cops & firefighters over the holidays leaving them out of the holiday bonus? Vince Gray says no. Unions say yes. – December 25, 2012
- Reporter ambushes DC’s Deputy Mayor & still can’t get answers on fire department fleet. Union believes ladders untested since 2009. – March 18, 2013
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