hits Allentown with labor charge

By bob fleming


ending litigation between Allen-town municipal officials and a suspended Allentown police officer has resulted in the issuance of an unfair labor practice charge against the borough by the state Public Employ-ment Relations Commission (PERC).

Borough officials were notified last week the complaint was filed by PERC against the borough over the suspension of Patrolman Phil Schirmer, former president of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge 114, Allentown.

Schirmer was suspended from the police force without pay in June 1999 following two alleged incidents of wrongdoing and official misconduct.

He subsequently filed a lawsuit against Allentown and several borough officials claiming the action taken by them is illegal and void. In that suit Schirmer claimed his suspension was retaliation on the part of borough officials because he negotiated a contract on behalf of Allentown’s police officers.

The members of FOP Lodge 114 contacted PERC concerning labor negotiations between the FOP and the borough regarding the 1997-2000 police department salary and benefits contract.

According to W. Reed Gusciora, Lawrenceville, the attorney representing the FOP, Schirmer was brought up on dismissal charges in the aftermath of the negotiations after representing the department’s officers.

"Officer Schirmer was dismissed without prior formal notice, without the borough conducting a proper and customary investigation and without affording the FOP president his right to due process," Gusciora said. "Under state law, the complaint had to first be reviewed by PERC and after its own deliberation, the unfair practice charge was issued."

Gusciora said the borough’s action to suspend Schirmer followed the resolution of the contract dispute between the Allentown FOP and borough officials by a state arbitrator who found in favor of the police officers.

"The borough had offered a meager salary increase for the period, which was not supported by the arbitrator, who awarded an approximate 5 percent increase for the three years, in early 1999," Gusciora said. "Several months later Officer Schirmer was suspended on questionable charges without benefit of an administrative hearing."

The complaint alleges that Schirmer was suspended in retaliation for his union activities, for his position as president of the FOP, for exercising his PERC rights and for successfully concluding a new contract through arbitration proceedings.

Mayor Stuart Fierstein, who is named as a respondent in the unfair labor practice charge, told the Examiner on Monday that he is aware of the charge but has not seen the paperwork on it. Citing pending litigation on personnel matters, he referred all questions and comments on the charge to Thomas Savage, Lambertville, the borough’s special counsel.

"There is absolutely no validity to this unfounded charge," said Savage. "This is one man’s pipe dream.."

Savage said the civil litigation involving the borough and Schirmer remains unresolved at the present time.

"These things take some time to play out." the attorney said.

PERC Examiner Arnold H. Zudick will conduct a public hearing on the unfair labor practice charge at the PERC offices in Trenton on June 22.