HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Paramedics employed by the Philadelphia Fire Department are entitled to the same collective-bargaining rights as the firefighters they work with, a state appellate court says in a decision released Thursday.
A three-judge Commonwealth Court panel waded into a long-running dispute between the city and its firefighters' union in reversing a Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board decision that would have removed the roughly 200 fire-service paramedics from the firefighters' bargaining unit.
The labor board said in its September 2010 decision that the paramedics were not covered by a state law that gives firefighters and police collective-bargaining rights. It said any firefighting that paramedics may do is "merely incidental to their primary duty of responding to medical emergencies," according to court papers.
But the appellate court panel said the paramedics — part of the firefighters' unit for more than 20 years — are covered by the law because they and firefighters perform interrelated duties that are "equally necessary and appropriate" in battling fires.
"The medical services now provided primarily by (paramedics) have historically been an integrated service of any fire department," Judge Patricia McCullough wrote in the opinion.
"It would be patently unfair to say that (paramedics) do not 'fight fires' when, in fact, they are present at fire scenes; they monitor the health of those persons who are doing physical battle with the fire; and, when needed, they are called upon to do physical battle with the fire themselves," she said.
McCullough noted that the majority of emergencies to which both firefighters and paramedics respond do not even involve fires.
"Yet no one would seriously contend that firefighters are not covered by (the collective-bargaining law) because the vast majority of their work does not involve fighting fires," she said.
A spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter did not rule out an appeal.
"The administration is in receipt of the opinion and we are reviewing it and our options," said Mark McDonald, the mayor's press secretary.
Tim Shea, a vice president of Local 22 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, applauded the decision. He said the latest court case stems from a dispute over paramedics' wages more than five years ago.
"This has been a long fight," he said.
Judge Dan Pellegrini, a member of the court panel, filed a dissenting opinion saying he did not disagree with the majority's "well-reasoned" decision. But he argued that the question of who is or is not a firefighter is a constitutional question and the labor board lacks jurisdiction to answer it.