More articles discussing IL HB 5485 on fire department staffing (manning):
Firefighters Chief: Mayors “Confused or Lying” on Fire Department Staffing Bill
Illinois’ top firefighter union is firing backing at suburban mayors over their efforts to torch fire department staffing legislation in Springfield.
On Tuesday the DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference ratcheted up their opposition to a proposed law, House Bill 5485, that would mandate fire department staffing requirements for local municipalities.
The proposed legislation is slated for a hearing in the Senate Executive Committee, Wednesday.
Under the bill, communities outside of Chicago would be required to collectively bargain staffing levels with their firefighters, a practice that the mayors say would result in no local accountability and potential safety issues for residents.
“When minimum staffing levels are required to be part of fire department contract discussions, and outside individuals become involved in those discussions and dictate outcomes, it takes away our ability to work together to decide that is best for each of our communities,” said Downers Grove Mayor Martin Tully. “It can result in unnecessarily increased city budgets, which means higher taxes for our citizens.”
Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois union president Patrick Devaney is having none of it, blasting the mayors’ claims.
“The DuPage Mayors and municipal groups are either confused or intentionally lying about the effects of the bill,” Devaney told The Illinois Observer. “The legislation halts trial lawyers’ attempts to unravel the 30 year history of bargaining over safe fire department staffing levels across the state.”
The mayors also describe the bill as another unfunded mandate from Springfield.
“This bill will negatively affect the outstanding mutual aid system in place in this state which ensures that no matter what the situation, the right number of firefighters and equipment are sent to the scene,” said Roselle Mayor Gayle Smolinski. “We believe this bill is unnecessary and does more harm than good.”
But Devaney argues that only harm would be to “politically connected law firms”.
“The only losers will be the politically connected law firms that stand to lose millions in taxpayer dollars to continue frivolous litigation over the issue,” Devaney said.
Pols and pundits distort truth on firefighter staffing
Laws are what separate democracies from totalitarian states, laws based on trust and promises kept.
Have we lost that compass?
Local politicians and their supporters have used this space recently to argue that local governments can’t live up to an agreement made many years ago with firefighters in Illinois. Although the pols and pundits have done a great job of distorting the truth, as they often do, the facts remain the same.
In 1986, firefighters gave up their right to strike. Instead, the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act gave firefighters the right to binding arbitration over several worker issues to ensure that the public’s safety was always protected regardless of any labor/management disagreement that might exist in a particular jurisdiction.
That Act explicitly identifies what issues can be taken to arbitration: wages, hours and working conditions. The act also excludes specific items from being heard by an arbitrator. Manning is not listed as an excluded item for firefighters (as it is for other occupations) due to the importance of assembling adequate personnel to mitigate the emergencies firefighters face every day.
Although Illinois firefighters and their employers have negotiated safe staffing levels for nearly three decades, the Great Recession spawned a small group of legal theorists that have attempted to rewrite Illinois statute through the court system. Some municipalities have been too willing to throw away millions of tax dollars to fight the 1986 law and have failed at every level. In fact, the biggest waste of tax dollars came from a challenge by the village of Oak Lawn.
Since 1992, manning requirements have been part of the Oak Lawn’s collective bargaining agreements. When the global financial crash hit in 2008, the village used the crisis as an excuse to unilaterally eliminate emergency responders.
Firefighters went to arbitration and were upheld. The village appealed to the circuit court and lost, then to the appellate court, where they lost again. Finally the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the lower court decisions by refusing to hear the case.
The cost to Oak Lawn taxpayers? A cool $2.5 million.
But where did that tax money go? Not to first responders. Not to fixing potholes or repairing decaying sewers. It could have been abated back to property taxpaying homeowners but it wasn’t.
The $2.5 million was dished out by the Oak Lawn Village Board to lawyers. No one’s sidewalk was fixed with that money. No one’s life was saved, no bad guys jailed and no taxpayer used the money to buy his kid a new pair of shoes.
Taxpayer money went to lawyers who are now financing a propaganda campaign to fool readers into believing that continuing to allow firefighters to negotiate over safe staffing levels will somehow hurt taxpayers in Illinois.
Property taxpayers have every right to fight for lower taxes. But let’s take aim at the real waste within the system. It’s time to call out the local politicians who point fingers at first responders with one hand and use the other to funnel money to their lawyers and political backers. HB 5485 should be passed — quickly — to end the costly dispute that is enriching attorneys and costing taxpayers dearly.
Pat Devaney is president of the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois.