Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced Wednesday that he has filed an action for declaratory judgment with the Court of Common Pleas regarding County Council’s wage hike for county employees.
In a 19-page complaint, Fitzgerald and County Solicitor George Janocsko asked the Court of Common Pleas to insert itself into the legislative dispute because the ordinance “raises a fundamental question concerning the proper operation of County government, namely, who possesses the legal authority to set the wages of County employees under the Home Rule Charter — the Executive Branch or the Legislative Branch of County Government?”
The County Council voted 10-5 to pass the ordinance in June, requiring Allegheny County to pay all of its workers at least $18 per hour in 2024, $19 per hour in 2025 and $20 per hour starting in 2026.
“This home rule form of government, which is over 20 years old, is still relatively new and, from time to time, there are going to be questions about authority within the county’s home rule charter that impacts the operation of the county,” said Fitzgerald in a statement.
“Taking the personalities out of this entirely, there is a legitimate disagreement on whether the executive branch or the legislative branch has the legal authority to set wages. It’s an important legal question that requires immediate review and determination by the Court, especially since my administration is in the process of preparing the 2024 budget. The resolution of this lawsuit will have a lasting impact upon future executives and councils.”
The filing contends that the Allegheny County Home Rule Charter does not grant legal authority to the legislative branch to set the wages of county employees. Instead, the power to set wages and salaries rests with the executive branch. It also raises the issue that the ordinance’s application to future collective bargaining agreements also violates the authority vested in the executive by the charter and under applicable Pennsylvania law. Finally, it underscores that the enactment of an ordinance cannot supersede the home rule charter.
“As I’ve said before, I have consistently advocated for an increase to the minimum wage and have supported increases to the state and federal minimum wage. Just as importantly, I haven’t just talked about what others should do, I acted,” said Fitzgerald. “As county executive, I established a $15 an hour base wage for our full-time county workers several years ago and have since committed to increase that full-time base wage to $18 an hour; a wage that will take effect in 2024.”
County Council member Bethany Hallam, the primary sponsor of the wage increase bill, agreed with Fitzgerald’s right to pursue legal action but disagreed with its relevance after the veto override.
“A declaratory judgment cannot prevent Council from appropriating the funding necessary to implement this pay raise in the 2024 budget, nor can it prevent the next County Executive from implementing the pay raise using that appropriation,” she said.
“He can throw all the temper tantrums and engage in all the stalling tactics and employ rhetorical devices about how he doesn’t oppose pay raises, but the simple facts are that he only actually gives significant raises to his inner circle cronies, and he’s willing to go to court in a desperate effort to keep anyone else from getting raises.
“It’s disappointing to see Fitzgerald give one last ‘screw you’ to county employees on his way out the door, but not at all unexpected from someone who has spent his entire tenure fighting against those who could benefit most from a government that works for all of us instead of only those who he deems worthy.”
updated to include comments from Hallam