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Pa. Supreme Court agrees to hear Pittsburgh police union contract appeal

Bob Bauder
| Tuesday, March 13, 2018, 4:21 p.m.
People walk by the Pennsylvania Judicial Center on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg.
Associated Press
People walk by the Pennsylvania Judicial Center on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear a Pittsburgh police union's appeal of a contract awarded through arbitration in 2016.

Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 has been appealing an arbitration panel's contract award for two years, contending it does not conform to the city's Act 47 financial recovery plan.

Union President Robert Swartzwelder said arbitrators acted in bad faith by denying the union's request for provisions that were awarded to other city employee unions in separate bargaining negotiations.

He said that includes provisions for overtime pay and how pensions are calculated. Police pensions are based on salaries. Pensions for other city employees include overtime pay, he said. Police receive overtime only after surpassing a 40-hour work week, he said. Others are paid a premium rate after working eight hours in a day.

“This is no reflection on those unions,” Swartzwelder said. “The point is if you're in Act 47 and everybody is under those mandates, they should be uniformly applied.”

Mayor Bill Peduto's Office said the contract conforms to a five-year fiscal plan crafted in 2014 by state financial overseers.

The state's Commonwealth Court last year agreed and denied the union's request to void the contract. The Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether Commonwealth Court erred in ruling the contract does not deviate from the Act 47 plan, according to an order issued by the court.

“The city believes Commonwealth Court's decision was correct,” said Tim McNulty, a spokesman for Peduto. “While Pittsburgh has made substantial progress in getting its financial house in order, it continues to address long-term legacy costs, including its significant pension liabilities.”

Pittsburgh officers for years have noted that they earn less in salary and benefits than suburban officers.

The union and city have been battling over contract terms since the last one expired in December 2014. Union officials opted to have a panel of three arbitrators write a contract after negotiations stalled.

FOP officials complained that the panel awarded other city unions raises of 2 percent from 2016 through 2018 while the police contract calls for a 1 percent raise in 2016 and 2 percent in 2017 and 2018. Officers also have to pay 15 percent of health insurance premiums, up from 8.8 percent in the previous contract.

A first-year Pittsburgh officer earns $44,710 a year in base salary, a figure that does not include overtime pay. In some cases, officers can more than double their salary working overtime.

Master officers with more than four years of service draw a salary of $66,741 a year, according to the city's 2018 budget.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312, or via Twitter @bobbauder.

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