Posts Tagged Oak Lawn firefighters file grievance

Editorial on Oak Lawn village leadership

An editorial at the

What kind of mistake would get you fired at work?

Most of us would say that if we caused our company to lose millions of dollars, we probably would be checking out the furnishings at the unemployment office. Perhaps, if we are related to the owner, we would just get moved from the corner office to the basement.

But, if you work for Oak Lawn in a top management spot and earn $200,000 a year in salary and benefits, you apparently don’t have to worry about mistakes that cost your bosses millions of dollars.

You see, Village Manager Larry Deetjen has cost the taxpayers $3.2 million dollars by starting and then continuing a fight with the Oak Lawn firefighters’ union over the issue of minimum manning. The village, which Deetjen was hired to serve as its top administrator, chose to violate a binding collectively bargained contract.

If you think you’ve heard that story before, you have, because this isn’t the first union contract that Deetjen summarily chose to ignore. He cost the village a couple of hundred thousand when he fired 20 union 911 dispatchers and the union filed an unfair labor practice charge. Oh well, it’s only money.

Of course it isn’t Deetjen’s money that he’s losing. He’s losing the taxpayers’ hard earned money. The taxpayers are the people who Mayor Sandra Bury and even Deetjen himself claim that they are protecting in their never ending battle with the firefighters.

Arbitrators and judges have told Deetjen and the Village Board that Deetjen’s strategy is WRONG. Yet, the Village Board continues to support running into the fire caused by Deetjen.

One Trustee, Robert Streit (Dist. 3) long ago abandoned Deetjen’s plan and has argued vehemently that his fellow board members should be asking questions instead of blinding nodding their heads “yes” like bobblehead dolls.

Bury and her allies counter the argument by blaming the union members and saying that they are protecting the taxpayers from bad decisions by the court. The problem with that argument is that the bad decisions were made by Deetjen.

Deetjen implies that the board shouldn’t have to listen to the judges and arbitrators because they aren’t Oak Lawn taxpayers or village board members. The seven arbitrators and judges who have ruled against the village were merely following the law. After seven losses in court, even the thickest skull on the village board should be able to realize that the village’s position is contrary to Illinois law.

Unfortunately, the taxpayers can’t vote Larry Deetjen out of office. He’s appointed and serves at the pleasure of the mayor and board of trustees.

Deetjen is fond of comparing public employees to the private sector, but in the private sector you don’t get away with wasting $3.2 million dollars. In fact, if he was running a private company, such a loss might cause the company to go bankrupt. But then again, it isn’t Deetjen’s money or the board members’ money. The loss falls squarely on the taxpayers and Mayor Bury acknowledges that the board may have to institute a special tax levy to pay for the mistake.

Yet, Deetjen recently told the Board of Trustees that his strategy was fiscally prudent. The board members’ heads bobbled up and down in blind agreement.

If you were to include the settlements with the dispatchers and the legal fees to pay a handful of law firms he has hand-picked, the number is closer to $4 million dollars.

Larry Deetjen should be held accountable for the loss of $4 million dollars. Perhaps, like attorneys, doctors and engineers, he has professional malpractice insurance. If so, the village should look into making a claim in order to protect the taxpayers.

Deetjen’s financial mistakes are adding up and it is time that the board take action and dismiss him as the village manager.

Voters can do their part too. Ask the candidates if they support retaining Larry Deetjen as the nanager. If a candidate says yes, you can eliminate that candidate from consideration. The village manager already has enough “yes” men.

thanks Dan

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Oak Lawn management continues to fight the fire firefighter’s union

Excerpts from the Oak Lawn Leaf:

The Oak Lawn Village Board voted 4-1 to hire Ben Gehrt, an attorney with a reputation of vigorously advocating for management in disputes with unions, to appeal the $3.2 million dollar arbitration award recently entered against the village in favor of the firefighters.

Gehrt, a partner with the law firm of Clark Baird Smith LLP, has represented governmental bodies in several disputes with labor. He represented the City of Rockford in a case against the Illinois Association of Firefighters and was able to reduce minimum manning staffing levels.

Minimum manning has been an issue of contention between Village Manager Larry Deetjen and the union members even though the labor contract between the parties states that minimum manning is set at 21 union members.

In the last legislative session, the Illinois General Assembly passed a law that states that minimum manning is a subject for collective bargaining. Oak Lawn, however, was already subject to minimum manning provisions in a contract it signed. Nonetheless, under Deetjen, the village decided to reinterpret the minimum manning provision.

In January of 2008, the Village of Oak Lawn shut down a squad unit when there were insufficient firefighters at work, [deciding] to shut down the unit rather than to pay overtime to firefighters that would have been called into work.

A few months later, the village board, at the recommendation of the village manager and the Finance Committee Chairman Tom Phelan, voted to eliminate six firefighter positions despite opposition from the union.

The union filed various successful actions against the village and the village responded, again at Deetjen’s suggestion, to not fill vacant positions when union members retired. At that time, Deetjen, without any public discussion with the Board of Trustees, began counting the battalion chief as one of the 21 members mandated by the minimum manning ruling.

Alex Olejniczak is the only trustee remaining on the village board that supported Deetjen’s actions in 2008 and still supports those efforts against the firefighters’ union. At a recent meeting he even questioned whether anyone receiving political contributions from the union or its members should be able to vote on the issue.

Former Mayor Dave Heilmann, Trustees Robert Streit and Carol Quinlan have long since stopped supporting Deetjen’s recommendations regarding the firefighters. Streit has continuously urged the current board to stop the litigation with the firefighters noting recently that the manager is 0 for 7 in the disputes.

“(Deetjen) has lost at the labor board, at arbitration, in the Appellate Court, in the Supreme Court, in a second arbitration hearing, in a compliance hearing and in Circuit Court”, said Streit. He said that the constant fighting with the union is counter productive and … has cost the village over $3.2 million dollars.

In 2011 the union filed an enforcement petition arguing that the Kravit decision setting the minimum manning at 21 was being violated by the village. On February 5, 2015, the compliance order was entered agreeing with the village and awarding back pay with interest. The total owed now to firefighters is $3.2 million dollars and interest continues to accrue at about $500,000 a year.

When Streit asked for a total amount of legal fees spent on the seven years of litigation with the firefighters, he was told that it is less than the $3.2 million dollars in the award. “Nobody else on the board seemed to care that we are spending millions on this litigation”, said Streit.

Mayor Sandra Bury and the current board majority have been previously criticized for “union busting” when they voted to privatize the 911 Dispatch Center and fire 20 union village employees.

thanks Dan

Also see this previous post

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Oak Lawn firefighters file grievance

An article from the Oak Lawn Leaf:

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.

thanks Dan

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