The city's paramedics are planning to sue over Mayor Nutter's efforts to keep them out of the firefighters union. The dispute goes back to a ruling by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board last month that gave the city the right to shift paramedics out of the firefighters union. That meant the medics would have to switch to the health plan that nonrepresented city employees get, which union representatives say is not as generous.
Nutter administration officials say their decisions are in keeping with efforts by paramedics to be held to a different overtime standard than firefighters are.
Bill Gault, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 22, said the law requires the city to give the paramedics time to find a union to represent them before implementing changes.
“We plan to file a lawsuit to keep the mayor from breaking the law,” he said. “The city is not allowed to change any working conditions or get involved in the process until after they have someone to represent them.”
Councilman James F. Kenney has taken the paramedics' side. On Thursday, he introduced a resolution in Council asking the mayor to maintain the paramedics' current benefits. The resolution also would allow Council to hire lawyers to help the union in its efforts.
“I think that what the administration is doing is wrongheaded,” said Kenney, who noted that he considers the mayor a friend. “Just because they have the authority to do it doesn't meant they should.”
In 2008, paramedics won a federal court case saying they are allowed to earn overtime. The city then appealed to the state labor board to have the 220 paramedics removed from the firefighters union.
After the city won the ruling from the labor board, it moved to shift paramedics into the health plan of nonunionized workers and make other changes.
Nutter, speaking with reporters outside City Hall Thursday afternoon, said the paramedics' original lawsuit sought to differentiate themselves from firefighters.
“They asked for something, they got it, and as a result they find themselves in a different situation because of their success,” said Nutter.
He acknowledged that the paramedics may not be bound by the state law that forbids firefighters from striking. “We're certainly concerned about that.”
Gault said the paramedics would never strike.
“If we strike, somebody dies, and it's our conscience,” Gault said.
Nutter said that he considered Kenney a friend and a “great” councilman, but said Kenney was mistaken about the city's position.