Posts Tagged Illinois Labor Relations Board

North Riverside considers privatizing the fire department (more)

Excerpts from

Despite the fact that both sides appear to remain far apart and a resolution is still beyond the horizon, North Riverside’s mayor and the leadership of the North Riverside Firefighters’ Union have been meeting informally over the past couple of months, trying to find something that resembles common ground.

Mayor Hubert Hermanek said last week that he has met with the union’s president, Rick Urbinati, eight times in recent months. It’s been 18 months since Hermanek rolled out a plan to privatize the village’s fire protection services, where union firefighters would be phased out and replaced with paramedic/firefighters supplied by Paramedic Services of Illinois (PSI).

Hermanek had hoped to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in mounting pension obligations with the move. The deal also would have eliminated a source of aggravation for Hermanek and the majority VIP Party, who the firefighters’ union publicly opposed in the 2013 and 2015 elections. The firefighters’ union has also filed numerous grievances against the village over the years.

In mid-December, Hermanek and North Riverside Finance Director Sue Scarpiniti were called to testify in front of an Illinois Labor Relations Board arbitrator as part of an unfair labor practice complaint lodged by the union against the village related to the privatization plan. Hermanek, who was grilled by attorneys for about three hours, characterized the four-day hearing as “combative and unpleasant.”

It’s unclear when the arbitrator will issue a recommended solution to the complaint, which alleged that the village did not and had no plans to negotiate a new union contract in good faith.

In the meantime, the village is waiting to hear from the Illinois Court of Appeals, which is considering an appeal filed by the village in the wake of a Cook County Circuit Court judge’s ruling in October that she didn’t have jurisdiction to rule on North Riverside’s lawsuit, which sought to terminate the union contract unilaterally.

As the waiting game continues, Hermanek and Urbinati say they’ll continue to meet to see if there’s some sort of solution that can be reached in order to tamp down the contentious environment that’s existed for more than two years now.

What Hermanek would like to do is cut a deal with the union that would allow the village to save money by not replacing three firefighter positions that have become vacant in the past year or so, through one retirement and two terminations. Hermanek said he’d like to be able to replace those positions with paid-on-call firefighters. Doing so would allow the village to avoid new pension obligations and avoid paying overtime to union firefighters.

However, the union’s position, according to their attorney, J. Dale Berry, is that the village is not allowed to staff its fire department — including its paramedics — in any way other than what’s required by state law. According to Berry, civil service rules were tightened in 2011, upgrading hiring standards for firefighters and paramedics. “The only way they can staff it is by hiring from a competitive list [of potential employees],” said Berry. Those rules can be the subject of contract discussions, said Berry, but “they have to negotiate that.”

When the village filed its lawsuit to privatize the department in September 2014, one of the key arguments was that the village ought to be able to terminate its contract with the union unilaterally after reaching an impasse in negotiations. But with almost every decision in court going against the village during the past 18 months, it appears that the village is extending an olive branch by Hermanek holding informal private talks with union leaders.

Both Urbinati and Berry said that a solution is possible. “We can settle this in a reasonable way,” Berry said, “but [the village] ha[s] to acknowledge they’re covered by the law.”

thanks Dan

a complete summary of articles on this topic can be found HERE

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Arbitrator backs union on minimum manning in Oak Lawn

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

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