An article in the about an arbitrator’s decision on minimum manning in Oak Lawn:

On July 7, 2014, an interest arbitrator issued a 113 page opinion, which once again supports the firefighters’ union’s position regarding minimum manning and rejected the efforts of the village administration to reduce the number of firefighters on an engine from four to three.

According to the opinion, which was released to the Oak Lawn Leaf, the firefighters 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”.   Theoretically, the language would have allowed the village to layoff more firefighters and then unilaterally reduce the number of firefighters on each engine or in the ALS or BLS ambulance.

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.  Based on that ruling the parties were required to bargain over the issue of minimum manning and submit the matter to binding interest arbitration if they fail to reach an agreement.   The July 7th decision is the result of that process.

Village Manager Larry Deetjen, Mayor Sandra Bury and her board majority have long supported reducing the number of firefighters on engines and paramedics in ambulances. 

In the interest arbitration decision, the arbitrator made a “bench ruling” on the minimum manning issue because the “Village’s showing fell so far short of the showing required to change the status quo…”.

The arbitrator noted that the contract between the parties contained a mutual acknowledgement that “minimum manning is about safety for the public and the employees” and noted that the village now wants to argue that the real issue is costs while ignoring the previous acknowledgement that minimum manning is necessary for safety.

In order to change the “status quo” of an agreement, the entity seeking the change must show that the system is broken.  The village claimed that the system is to costly and therefore “broken” but the arbitrator rejected that opinion noting that the village’s own expert witness said that the use of four firefighters to an engine is not a hindrance. The arbitrator rejected the argument of the village noting that the change suggested by the village would have to come through the bargaining process.

Earlier this year, Trustee Robert Streit (Dist. 3) denounced Mayor Sandra Bury’s attacks on the firefighters and the minimum manning provision.  He noted 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.

Bury has claimed that the minimum manning provision has been “devastating to our budget” arguing that the village spends two million dollars on fire department overtime because of the minimum manning standard.  The Oak Lawn Firefighters Union has argued in the past that the overtime is related to the village’s decision to reduce the number of firemen and paramedics from  over 100 to 72 thereby creating the overtime crisis.  

Bury chose to tape the message urging the defeat of legislation in the Spring Session, claiming in her message that “minimum manning is forcing cuts in public works, telecommunications, the police department and administrative staff”.  Streit said that the decision to videotape that message sends the wrong message to the public and the fire department.  The General Assembly rejected Bury’s position and the bill.

Bury called minimum manning a “job killer” because other departments will lose jobs due to increased spending for the fire department.  That same argument was put forth before the arbitrator who declined to remove the minimum manning issue noting that the village has to make whatever managerial decisions it chooses to make while maintaining “minimum manning”.  

A review of the village’s budgets for the last ten years, however, indicates that the spending on the fire department has been historically between 20% and 26% of the total budget.  This year’s budget has the figure estimated at 23% of the total budget.   In contrast, spending on legal services has tripled.  

thanks Dan