There's a strange notice on the Fraternal Order of Police's website. It says:

Rumors are running rampant. The truth is the rumors are not correct. We are still in Executive Sessions and there is no contract as of yet. You'll know when we know. Please don't believe the rumors.

This got us wondering about the police arbitration decision. As Ben wrote back in October, the decision matters not just because there's a lot of money involved, but because it may set the tone for the city's other union negotiations.

Neither firefighters nor police are permitted to strike under state law. Instead, union contracts are negotiated through a binding arbitration process. A three member panel – one appointed by the union, one by the city, and one, a mutually agreed-upon third party -- decides on the details of a contract.

We've been expecting a decision for a while now. By early November, arbitration hearings were complete, and the Inquirer said a decision was expected late last month or early this month.

Neither the city nor the union was willing to comment on when to expect a decision or the reasons behind the continued delays. (Nor is this the only delay the city has to worry about: Dave Davies reports today that the other unions are far off, too).

A source familiar with the arbitration process confirmed that a delay of this length is unusual.

Though the source attributed some of the problem to the city's long budget process — Harrisburg didn't approve crucial portions of the city budget until September — the source also said that the great distance between the parties was making it difficult to find a solution.

Mayor Nutter is demanding serious cuts across the board: no wage increases, changing the health care plan and a switch from a defined-benefit pension plan to a defined-contribution plan for new hires.

The union isn't willing to concede on all of these points at once, creating a challenging impasse.

The arbiters could conceivably hand down a contract if the city and police don't agree, but our source said that the neutral arbiter first tries to first get the parties to reach a compromise.

That's just not happening so far.

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