The Oak Lawn Firefighters have filed a grievance against the Village of Oak Lawn pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement between the parties claiming that the Village of Oak Lawn has failed to maintain minimum manning requirements as required by the contract and recommended for safety of the public and firefighters.
According to sources within the Village of Oak Lawn, the Village has already responded to the grievance claiming that it has not violated the contract.
However, according to an Arbitrator’s ruling issued on July 7th of this year, the administration’s efforts to reduce the number of firefighters on an engine from four to three was once again denied. The arbitrator’s ruling was the result of Interest Arbitration initiated by both parties.
The collective bargaining agreement includes a “minimum manning clause”, in which both the village and the firefighters agreed that for the purposes of “efficient response to emergency situations and for reasons of employee safety, sufficient personnel and apparatus need to be maintained in state of readiness.” The provision mandates that the Village of Oak Lawn maintain four firefighters on an engine, two paramedics on an Advanced Life Support Ambulance and two EMTs on a Basic Life Support Ambulance.
Under Village Manager Larry Deetjen’s recommendation and the Village Board’s support, the village has allowed the firefighter employees to be reduced from 100 to 72 over the years. The Village has also waged and lost multiple battles over the issue.
The firefighters have supported keeping the “minimum manning contract language” the same while the village agreed with the daily shift of 21 employees, it sought to add language stating that would have allowed the village to staff only three firefighters to an engine if staffing fell below 21 daily employees, “for any reason”. The language was rejected by the union, which has battled over the issue of minimum manning and had to file an unfair labor practice. The Illinois Labor Relations Board ruled against the village and that decision was upheld by the Illinois Appellate Court in 2011.
The relationship between firefighters and the administration has continued to deteriorate according to sources on both sides of the table. Most recently, Village Trustee Robert Streit (Dist. 3) asked the Mayor and his fellow Trustees to consider applying for a Safer Grant to fund new firefighter positions. The grant would pay as many as three years of salary and benefits for the firefighters.
At first, Mayor Sandra Bury and Trustee Alex Olejniczak (Dist. 2) claimed the village was working on the issue already and it was “in the process”. More recently, the Oak Lawn Leaf has learned that Deetjen approached the firefighters demanding that the firemen agree to eliminate the minimum manning clause in exchange for a promise by the village to apply for a Safer Grant for additional firefighters. That request was rejected.
The firemen have complained that the village is wasting millions of dollars in overtime pay as a result of its failure to hire new firefighters. Mayor Sandra Bury has countered arguing that the minimum manning provision agreed to through the collective bargaining process was devastating to the village.
Trustee Robert Streit (Dist. 3) has previously denounced Mayor Sandra Bury’s attacks on the firefighters noting that the village was told its position was wrong in 2011 and chose to continue to fight the issue, making it virtually impossible to negotiate any issues with the firefighters union. While Streit has claimed that he can’t support a position that the courts have consistently ruled against, other Trustees, such as Terry Vorderer and Mike Carberry have made comments supporting the fight over minimum manning despite the court rulings.
Despite concerns about the budget the Mayor and Board Majority under Deetjen’s leadership are ready once again to expend tax dollars to defend their position.