Mayor Michael Nutter announced the city has reached a five–year labor agreement with the city firefighter union.
Nutter made the announcement Friday at City Hall.
“We have had our arguments and disputes over the last seven years, but we were always partners in public safety,” said Nutter, adding that getting signatures on a contract can take time, but getting it done right was the overriding factor. “For our part, I said seven years ago that a critical part of mayoral leadership, as I defined it, was to search for labor contracts that would be good for members and taxpayers. But these agreements also needed to be sustainable for the future. We needed to turn this huge ship of state to a new direction on critical issues like healthcare, pensions and work rules.”
Nutter said although the relationship could be termed hostile during that times, it was not a reflection on his personal feelings toward the department; it had more to do with trying to reach an agreement fair to both the city and the firefighter union.
“The terms of this contract runs from July 1, 2013, through June 30, 2017,” said Nutter, noting that the city now has contracts in place with all four labor unions. “The award provides wage increases of 3 percent on July 1, 2013, 3 percent on July 1, 2014, and 3.25 percent on July 1, 2015.
“Finally, there will be a re–opener on economic terms in 2016,” Nutter added. “Our preliminary estimate for the cost for this contract is about $70 million over the course of this five–year plan. It will certainly be a challenge to fit these costs into our budget and [five year fiscal] plan, but as we have in the past, will work through that.”
Nutter said the firefighter union’s health care fund will adopt “aggressive wellness and disease management programs.” The union fund will be responsible for the first $15 million in plan costs in terms of benefits and administration.
“The firefighters union health fund will then be self–insured just as the Fraternal Order of Police is and will spend down $15 million from the union’s health fund resources,” Nutter said. “This will clearly benefit taxpayers. With a similar structure put in place with the FOP in 2009–10, we saved the city roughly $70 million in healthcare costs.”
The appeal of the last firefighter award was driven largely by the health fund’s fairly high costs, Nutter said, shedding light on what drove the administration to challenge previous awards.
“With these changes, we are taking steps to ensure that this is not the case in the future,” Nutter said. “But we’re also putting in place a major wellness and fitness program for members of Local 22 in the workplace, something that the city has sought for more than a decade.”
These wellness programs complete with periodic medical examinations and incentives to get healthy should help reduce or control the city’s healthcare costs while helping firefighters to improve their health.
Nutter said the new contract also includes a “comprehensive and clear disciplinary code,” designed to improve the transparency and distinguish between perception and reality, in terms of a fair disciplinary process.
The award also creates an expedited arbitration procedure for discharge or suspension cases.
“We expect this new system to be more efficient, and I think most importantly, more fair,” Nutter said, “and generally I think it will improve the administration of labor-management relations.”