An article in the Oak Lawn Leaf

A proposal to investigate Safer Grants to fully fund the salaries of two new firefighters for two to three years was met with resistance, despite the fact that the Village of Oak Lawn will soon not have enough firefighters to meet its contractual obligation due to upcoming retirements.

Trustee Robert Streit asked the mayor and trustees to consider applying for a Safer Grant immediately. The village began the year with 76 firefighters and will be down to 72 by July 1st. The village has not hired any new firefighters since 2007. The staffing is down from a high of 108 through attrition and the failure to replace the firefighters.

The village has waged a legal battle with the firefighters’ union over the concept of minimum manning. The Oak Lawn Professional Firefighters Association Local 3405 and the village battled over this issue with the firefighters filing an unfair labor practice against the village for refusing to bargain on the issue.  The Illinois Labor Relations Board ruled against the village and that decision was upheld by the Illinois Appellate Court in 2011.

Phillip Kazanjian, an administrative law judge who issued an opinion in August of 2010, was one of two judges who heard testimony regarding the minimum manning issue. Judge Kazanjian also heard an unfair labor charge regarding the village’s decision to lay off firefighters. Oak Lawn’s current board majority has continued to pursue a change to the minimum manning law and has blamed the fire department for service cuts in other areas due to overtime.

The goal of a SAFER Grant (Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response) is to improve and restore fire department staffing so they may more effectively respond to and mitigate emergencies.  Streit raised the issue of applying for the grants by citing statistics including Fire Chief George Sheets’ statement that this year was the  deadliest in the history of Oak Lawn for fire deaths.

Deetjen said the village is preparing an application but it will require the cooperation of the union, implying that the union would have to make concessions for the village to support applying for a grant.   According to sources within the fire department, Deetjen remains opposed to adding additional firemen unless the firefighters’ union agrees to reduce the minimum manning provision.  Firefighters were recently told by Fire Chief George Sheets that the Village of Oak Lawn will not pursue the Safer Grant to add firefighters unless the union gives in to Deetjen’s demand.

The failure to adhere to the contract could lead the village into more litigation with the fire department if the firefighters file another unfair labor practice.  The village has incurred outstanding legal liabilities of over one million dollars in its unsuccessful battles with the firefighters.

thanks Dan