The village of North Riverside filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court on Friday, asking a judge to allow it to proceed with a plan to privatize its fire department in order to escape the “prospective devastating financial consequences” that would result from operating its full-time municipal fire department in the future.
In the lawsuit, the village claims that management and North Riverside Firefighters Union 2714 are at an impasse after “months” of negotiations. The first time the two sides sat down to discuss a new contract was June 24. Their final negotiation session, overseen by a federal mediator, took place Sept. 9.
At the heart of the lawsuit is the village’s contention that it should not in this instance be limited by language in its union contract with firefighters and contained in the Illinois Labor Relations Act, which states that no one side can unilaterally change employment conditions while negotiations or arbitration are pending.
The village’s position is that “it can no longer responsibly enter into a ‘new or amended agreement’ with the union” because of its financial situation, which it lays out in detail in the suit. Further, the village argues that neither the union contract nor labor law prevents the village from outsourcing its fire protection services “following a good-faith legislative determination of the present and future economic necessity to take such action, and following good-faith negotiations with the union.”
The firefighters union remains unconvinced that the village has any right to terminate the conditions of its contract, which expired April 30.
“They can’t do anything without a declaratory judgment,” said Rick Urbinati, president of Local 2714. “The fact is, it’s still in effect, and we’re still working. We’re not leaving work.”
North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. stated earlier this week that he would be disappointed if the village was unable to privatize the fire department by November.
As a result, the village’s attorney, Burt Odelson, said he will be asking Judge Diane J. Larsen to expedite the case during an as-yet unscheduled hearing next week.
Meanwhile, union firefighters from North Riverside and other neighboring communities met in Berwyn on Friday to discuss the possibility of pitching consolidation as a better resolution to voters as early as next spring. Urbinati said the first step is to determine what the boundaries of such a consolidated department might be. After that, firefighters would have to get enough signatures on petitions in each community that would be affected to get a consolidation question on the ballot.
As for the lawsuit pending in circuit court, Urbinati expressed confidence that a judge would uphold the language in the contract and as expressed in labor law.
“I don’t see how any judge can allow this,” said Urbinati. “But if that’s where this needs to go, we’ll wait to hear what the judge has to say.”