Scranton Police And Firefighters Due $21 Million From Arbitration Ruling

SCRANTON, PA &#8211 More than a dozen Scranton police officers and firefighters due back pay under the $21 million arbitration ruling will receive more than $90,000, including five employees owed more than $100,000 each, a review of data shows.

On average, firefighters are due $62,747, while police officers are owed $49,854, according to calculations made in August by an auditor hired by the city and police and fire unions to determine the back pay award. Individual amounts vary greatly among the employees in both departments dependent upon individual circumstances, but most are owed roughly $50,000 to $70,000.

On the high end, acting Police Chief Carl Graziano tops the list, owed $124,589 as of August. He’s followed by four other police officers: Albert Leoncini, who is owed $120,492; David Mitchell, $109,581, Leonard Namiotka, $104,930 and Timothy Harding, $100,055.

Among firefighters, Paul Laskowski is owed the most, at $99,764. Four other firefighters are also owed more than $90,000: James Floryshak, $98,901; Allen Lucas, $98,664; Edward Gallagher, $96,143 and John W. Davis Jr., $92,243.

The figures are accurate as of August. The actual amount owed will be more as interest continues to accrue.

Read the lists HERE:

The money is due the workers based on the 2011 state Supreme Court ruling that awarded the them back pay from 2003 to 2011. The city and unions later hired an auditor, Stephen Dorwart, to determine how much each employee was owed, plus interest, based on their rank and other factors.

All told, Mr. Dorwart determined 162 members of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 60 are owed a total of $10,165,098 as of August The police award affects 205 members of the Fraternal Order of Police E.B. Jermyn Lodge 2, who are owed $10,220,238 as of August. The calculation included $4.9 million in interest owed the employees, which, due to compounding, equated to a roughly 30 percent return over the eight years.

Some firefighters and officers are also due longevity pay. For firefighters, 33 are owed a total of $230,296. For police, 48 officers are owed a total of $292,786. That brings the total award for police and firefighters to $20.9 million as of August.

And the debt keeps growing. Interest of about $103,000 a month continues to accrue on the award, raising the total now owed to $21.46 million as of last week.

John Judge, president of the firefighters union, said the amounts owed may seem high, but that’s because the figures are compounded over nearly 10 years with interest. When that’s considered, the amount equates to little more than a cost of living increase for the employees.

“It’s not like they hit the lottery,” Mr. Judge said. “When you push something 10 years down the road, this is what happens.”

Despite months of effort, the city has not obtained the financing to pay the award. That led Thomas Jennings, the attorney representing the unions, to file a court action that seeks to force the city to enact a special tax to cover the debt.

The action helped reignite debate over the hotly contested Supreme Court ruling. Supporters of police officers and firefighters say the public servants are only receiving what they are due. Others see Scranton as a prime example of why Act 111, the state’s binding arbitration law, needs to be reformed to require arbitrators to consider a municipality’s ability to pay when issuing awards.

Rick Schuettler, executive director of the Pennsylvania Municipal League, said Scranton is the “poster child” for what happens to municipalities that must deal with arbitration rulings that exceed the financial reality of their budget.

The dispute hinged on the city’s decision not to honor raises included in an Act 111 binding arbitration award because they exceeded the money available under the city’s Act 47 distressed city plan. The city argued Act 47, which allows a city limit certain expenses, took precedence over Act 111. The Supreme Court disagreed.

If Act 111 had included provisions that allowed the arbitrator to consider the city’s financial state, it might have permitted the city and unions to avoid a costly battle, Mr. Schuettler said.

“Act 111 has caused many of the financial issues that face Pennsylvania municipalities,” he said. “If there were parameters around Act 111, it would not take away the right to collectively bargain or to have binding arbitration, but it would go a long way to restore fiscal sanity to decisions.”

Representatives from the city’s police and fire unions say the issue is not Act 111, but the city’s failure to negotiate with the unions, gambling that it would prevail in court.

Mr. Judge, the firefighters union president, and Bob Martin, president of the police union, said the unions tried several times to resolve the dispute with agreements that would have cost taxpayers far less, but the city repeatedly rejected them.

“We had a tentative agreement in July 2008, which was less than half of the Supreme Court award, but the city chose to walk away from it,” Mr. Martin said. “They kept fighting, thinking they were going to win. Ultimately they lost in the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, the taxpayers are paying the burden.”

Mr. Judge said the unions realize the city is in a dire financial strait, but the unions are only seeking what they are rightly due for the years they served without raises.

“For years they froze our salaries,” he said, “If the mayor sat down and fairly negotiated to begin with, this conversation would not be happening,” Mr. Judge said.

Mayor Christopher Doherty acknowledged the unions offered to settle the case, but said the city was urged by the Department of Community and Economic Development to continue the fight in court.

“The state told us no,” Mr. Doherty said. “The state was the one overseeing us getting out of distress.”

Mr. Judge and Mr. Martin also stressed that, even after the unions won in court, they agreed to other concessions totaling about $15 million. Despite that, they believe they are portrayed as villains by the media and public.

“I know the newspaper and some members of the public who are a vocal minority are going to say how horrible the unions are. We’re used to getting the crap kicked out of us,” Mr. Judge said. “We’ll take another bashing, but this was the ineptitude and lack of leadership on the administration’s part.”

Councilman Robert McGoff said he thinks the residents will be surprised to see how much each officer is owed, but doesn’t necessarily think there will be a backlash against the unions.

“I think there was great sentiment within the public for the firefighters and police to win the court case. Now that they see the numbers, they may be surprised, but unless you’re hypocritical, you can’t go back and say you didn’t expect it,” Mr. McGoff said.

How the payments were calculated

The city and unions hired auditor Stephen Dorwart to determine how much was due each police officer and firefighter who was employed by the city between 2003 and 2011.

Mr. Dorwart reviewed what each employee was paid each year from 2006 to 2011, then compared it to the amount they would have received had the city paid the raises. The calculation took into account base pay and rank differential. He then added compound interest on the figures.

The bulk of police officers and firefighters are due $50,000 to $70,000, but a handful will receive less than $10,000. That’s because they retired some point in the eight-year period used to calculate the award and are not entitled to raises given after their retirement.

Each employee was also given a flat payment to compensate them for a bonus, which was awarded in lieu of a percentage pay raise, for the years 2003, 2004 and 2005. For police, the amount was $5,605 and for firefighters it was $4,857, both including interest.

From The Scranton Times-Tribune

More from The Latest News.