HARRISBURG, PA – The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Scranton’s status as a “distressed” city under a state program does not prevent it from having to pay arbitration awards to police and fire union members.
The high court ruled 6-1 against the city in a case that was closely watched by public-sector unions and Pennsylvania municipalities.
The decision overturned previous decisions in the city’s favor in county court and in the state Commonwealth Court.
The city had challenged the right of an arbitration panel to award benefits to police officers and firefighters that went above the terms of the city’s financial recovery plan under the Municipalities Financial Recovery Act, often referred to as Act 47.
Police and firefighters may not strike, but rather have their disputes handled by arbitration, wrote Justice J. Michael Eakin, in a concurrence joined by one other justice.
“The reasons for this are manifest, and arbitration has generally proved a workable substitute,” Eakin said.
“However, if Act 47 were allowed to eliminate meaningful arbitration, unilaterally and permanently eviscerating the ability of workers to adjudicate legitimate issues, the consequences on many levels would not be acceptable.”