Affront to the voters: An arbitrator bucks the will of Pittsburghers

An arbitrator bucks the will of Pittsburghers

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With his signature, an arbitrator has told Pittsburghers that their opinion doesn’t count.

John M. Skonier, an attorney who served as the tie-breaker in a dispute between the city and its police union, signed a ruling last week that says, starting immediately, officers employed by Pittsburgh can live outside its boundaries. This decision creates two classes of city employees: police officers and all other workers.

The police union long has chafed at the residency rule, which applies to all city employees. The union’s effort to eliminate the restriction got a big boost in 2012 when the Legislature passed and Gov. Tom Corbett signed an ill-advised change in state law. Language that previously said officers “must” live in the city was replaced by the word “may.”

That shift triggered a re-opener in the contract between the city and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 1, but the parties could not come to an agreement in negotiations. That sent the dispute to arbitration, where protocol is for one panelist to be selected by the city, one by the union and the third picked by both parties.

The swing vote cast by Mr. Skonier, a professional arbitrator from Norristown, Pa., was the one that counted, although a huge majority of city voters reaffirmed their desire to keep the 112-year-old residency rule in an advisory referendum last November.

Mayor Bill Peduto supports residency and doesn’t think it should be controlled by arbitration. Nonetheless, he has suggested he’d be willing to bargain the requirement away in exchange for stronger authority over police officers. The arbitration decision took away that possibility, too.

Mr. Peduto’s only choice is to file a court appeal of this affront to city residents.

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