Court affirms ruling requiring city to pay $768,000 in police clerk back pay

SCRANTON, PA &#8211 The Commonwealth Court on Thursday affirmed a state Labor Relations Board ruling from last year that requires Scranton to provide several hundred thousand dollars in back pay for police clerk positions.

The amount of back pay owed is $768,276, according to court documents. The Fraternal Order of Police E.B. Jermyn Lodge 2 last year estimated the back pay at more than $1.3 million, citing compounding interest. The city estimated the amount between $700,000 and $800,000.

The state court ruling on Thursday is another chapter in a dispute between the police union and the city over the elimination of seven clerk positions – and a refusal to fill a then-existing vacancy – in January 2003. Court documents say a labor relations board hearing examiner in 2010 calculated the city had provided $954,261 of the $1.7 million in back pay owed to the police union.

The ruling Thursday also adds potentially more costs to an ongoing fight between the city and its public safety unions. Scranton has been in distressed status since 1992 under state Act 47.

The state Supreme Court in October ordered Scranton to pay its police and fire union members for arbitration awards from 2003 to 2007. In February, a second Supreme Court ruling cited its October decision and remanded and reversed a lower court ruling that in part affirmed wage increases for the police union and International Association of Fire Fighters Local 60 from 2008 through 2014.

An independent audit of the city’s finances for 2010 released in February says the cost of the rulings to the city for back pay alone from 2003 to 2010 is at least $14.5 million, but city and union officials say the amount owed could be twice as much because of other costs. Meanwhile, wage increases were set in place in the $85.3 million budget for 2012.

On Thursday, the Commonwealth Court cited the October state Supreme Court decision, which ruled in favor of the unions’ argument that Section 252 does not apply to arbitration awards for police and fire collective bargaining units.

An independent expert said a city appeal probably would be unsuccessful.

“I think it’s the end of the line,” said Jonathan Hugg, a municipal law attorney in Philadelphia. “I think this opinion shows the reluctance of the court to further review and further evaluate the claims.”

Mayor Chris Doherty referred comments to city solicitor Paul Kelly Jr., who could not be reached for comment.

Business Administrator Ryan McGowan declined to comment on the court decision, adding he had not seen it. Efforts to reach the police union and its attorney, Thomas Jennings, were unsuccessful.

From The Scranton Times-Tribune.