Scranton in a bind on back pay for workers

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 28, 2011 2:48 PM
Scranton in a bind on back pay for workers

By Tim Sohn

SCRANTON, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - City Council and Mayor Chris Doherty are at loggerheads over how to pay for $10 million to $30 million in back pay for police and firefighters.

The battle comes after a 6-1 state Supreme Court ruling last week that calls for the city to make good on arbitration awards from 2003 to 2007 to fire and police union members.

At issue was whether part of Act 47, which addresses the financial distress of the city, is relevant to arbitration awards. Act 47 is Pennsylvania's program designed to help distressed cities. Scranton has been a distressed city since 1992.

The court decided the act does not apply to certain arbitration awards governing collective bargaining for police and firefighters.

The city of 76,000 is already facing a $6 million deficit.

The council held its first meeting Tuesday since the Supreme Court ruling.

Doherty argued for layoffs and city tax increases, while the majority of the council wanted to take out bank loans. Doherty previously wanted the city to sell its parking meters to the Parking Authority to help close the financial gap. However, the council rejected the recommendation.

Doherty, Council President Janet Evans and the four other council members were unavailable for comment.

The city's police and fire unions said they are open to a payment plan.

"We want to help resolve this. We're not here to bankrupt the city," said Bob Martin, a police union president, told the council.

Dave Gervasi, president of a fire fighters local, told Reuters he is working on setting up a meeting next week with Doherty.

"Once the award was issued, we immediately made it known we were willing to talk. The mayor ignored us, and instead announced he was going to double taxes to pay for the back pay, and he was going to institute massive layoffs in the public safety departments," he said.

Gervasi said the mayor's staff has since tentatively offered to meet. (Reporting by Tim Sohn; Editing by Kenneth Barry)