Posts Tagged court rules against North Riverside village management

North Riverside considers privatizing the fire department (more)

Excerpts from the

The Village of North Riverside ran out of legal avenues to force the unilateral termination of union firefighters when the Illinois Supreme Court on Jan. 22 announced that it had denied North Riverside’s petition to appeal an appellate court ruling upholding an Illinois Labor Relations Board decision on the matter.

Back in September 2017, the Illinois Court of Appeals upheld the labor board’s ruling that the village had committed an unfair labor practice by seeking to terminate its contract with union firefighters while that contract was subject to arbitration.

Village attorney Burt Odelson, however, convinced officials to petition the Illinois Supreme Court to hear the case, believing the appellate court ruling created significant constitutional issues. The Supreme Court, apparently, disagreed by refusing the case.

Arbitration had been on hold since January 2015 while the village pursued all legal channels to force out union firefighters and replace them with a private company. The village filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court in September 2014, asking a judge to rule on whether North Riverside could summarily terminate its union contract, which had expired April 30, 2015. The village claimed contract negotiations were at an impasse, giving them the right to get out from under the contract.

Police officers and firefighters operate under no-strike/no-lockout contracts since they provide critical public safety services. Without the recourse to strike, when firefighter and police contracts expire they remain in force until a new deal can be negotiated or settled in arbitration. When the village filed its initial lawsuit, firefighters invoked their right to arbitration. The village responded by issuing termination notices to firefighters, though deferring action while the legal action was pending.

The village lawsuit would have required a judge essentially to overturn decades of accepted interpretation of the Illinois Labor Act.

Union leaders and village administrators have been meeting informally for many months, but those talks will now turn into serious negotiations or both sides may seek to have matters settled by an arbitrator. The core issues that prompted the 2014 lawsuit remain the same. Firefighters want a deal they believe is fair to union members and maintains staffing levels and village officials want to contain costs, particularly with respect to pensions and overtime costs.

In the meantime, there are signs that the hard feelings between union firefighters and the department’s new command staff have eased. Since 2014, six firefighters have left the department – four via retirement and two who were fired for cause. None has been replaced so far, however two probationary firefighters are likely to be sworn in at the village board’s next meeting on Feb. 5, the first such hires since late 2013 or early 2014.

thanks Dan

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North Riverside considers privatizing the fire department (more)

Excerpts from the

Despite an assurance from the North Riverside mayor in October that the village was through trying to privatize firefighting services through the courts, on Nov. 3 the village’s law firm filed a petition asking the Illinois Supreme Court to hear the case.

In the petition, the village’s attorney argues that the Illinois Court of Appeals created significant constitutional issues by ruling that an apparent contract impasse had to be resolved through an Illinois Labor Relations Board arbitrator.

The ruling, according to the village granted constitutionally prohibited special privileges and gives labor arbitrators power the Illinois General Assembly never intended.

The village continues to claim, as it has throughout the more than 3-year-old court case, that it has the unilateral right to terminate its contractual relationship with union firefighters, whose most recent deal ended April 30, 2014. The village attorney also argues that it has the right to outsource work performed by union members, based on an appellate court ruling concerning a school district that outsourced bus-driving jobs formerly held by union members.

That appellate ruling creates a conflict with the North Riverside ruling, the village argues, which necessitates intervention and clarification by the state’s Supreme Court.

The mayor admitted that it’s unlikely the Supreme Court will accept the case and said he expects the dispute between the village and the firefighters’ union to wind up before an arbitrator, as directed by the appellate court.

“We’ll go full-blown arbitration to dissect the contract and start from scratch,’ the mayor said. “The arbitrator can hopefully meet in the middle ground and come up with something that’s fair to both sides.”

Why petition the Supreme Court at all, and incur additional expenses? The mayor says that the village’s law firm pledged to file the petition without charge.

According to a spokeswoman at the Chicago office of the Supreme Court clerk, the soonest the court may announce a decision on whether to hear the case is the end of January 2018.

The attorney representing North Riverside Firefighters Union Local 2714 said he will file a response to the motion before the Nov. 27 deadline and that the village’s theory of how to interpret the Illinois Labor Relations Act turns decades of accepted law on its head.

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North Riverside Fire Department news

Excerpts from the

North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. said the village will drop its pursuit of privatizing firefighting services through the courts after the Illinois Court of Appeals on Sept. 29 upheld a ruling by the Illinois Labor Relations Board that the village engaged in an unfair labor practice by seeking to unilaterally terminate its contract with union firefighters while that contract was subject to arbitration.

The appeal was effectively North Riverside’s last resort in the courts, which for the past three-plus years have systematically ruled against the village’s contention that it could terminate the union contract because the two sides had reached an impasse.

“It finally closes the door on this experiment to argue that our contract is null and void,” said Chris Kribales, the president of North Riverside Firefighters Union Local 2714, which represents the village’s 12 union firefighters. “It finally puts us back on a level field.”

In March, the appellate court had affirmed that the Illinois Labor Relations Board was the proper venue to play out the contract dispute. In 2014, the village had filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court, asking a judge to declare the village could unilaterally terminate the union contract. Judge Diane Larsen ruled she didn’t have jurisdiction to make such a ruling.

Now the matter will go before Illinois Labor Relations Board arbitrator, something North Riverside Firefighters Union Local 2714 had demanded in 2014, shortly after the village had filed its suit in circuit court.

“We’re not going to appeal this,” Hermanek said of the Sept. 29 appellate court ruling. “It’s done. This was the last shoe to drop.”

An arbitrator selected to hear the North Riverside matter put the hearing on hold back in January 2015, because of the pending litigation. Now that the litigation has concluded, the arbitrator will resume his role.

Hermanek was philosophical about the failure of the lawsuit, saying, “You don’t know ’til you try. Now we’ll just move in a different direction.” He is holding out the slim hope that a labor arbitrator might rule that it can terminate its contract because, if it doesn’t, the village would face a devastating financial future.

The appellate court ruling noted that “while the goal of arbitration is to reach an agreement, [the Illinois Labor Relations Act] does not prevent an arbitrator from determining that the circumstances presented justify an award permitting an employer to sever any contractual relationship with the union” and that “the categorical elimination of employment, a [collective bargaining agreement] and every condition thereof falls within the purview of the arbitrator’s decision.”

While it would seem unlikely that an arbitrator would go to such lengths as to allow the village to terminate its union contract, it’s at least possible, the three-judge panel ruled.

The most recent union contract expired on April 30, 2014. Both sides have met during the past year to see if there are areas of common ground as they pursue a new deal. The union wants its staffing levels brought up to pre-2009 numbers, when minimum staffing was set at six firefighters per shift, according to Kribales.

Right now, the department is working three four-firefighter minimum shifts, but only has 11 firefighters to staff them (the 12th firefighter is a day-shift lieutenant). That means even if every shift is fully staffed (and no one takes a day off or calls in sick) the village is paying someone 24 hours of overtime one out of every three shifts, said Kribales.

Hermanek said the village will hire a firefighter to fill a vacancy created by the recent retirement of Firefighter Rick Urbinati. But there’s been no promise to add any additional firefighters after that.

Kribales said hiring just the one firefighter to replace Urbinati, while not enough, will still help.

It’s been an expensive detour for the administration, which announced the lawsuit as a way for the village to ultimately save money by eliminating future union pension obligations. It’s unclear exactly how much the village has spent to have its law firm pursue privatization through the courts and in matters before the Illinois Labor Relations Board. The firefighters union estimates the village has spent more than $1 million, while the village has claimed the court action has cost roughly $100,000.

The Landmark’s analysis of village financial records showed that North Riverside spent more than $800,000 on total legal fees between 2013 and 2016. The privatization effort started in the summer of 2014.

For the three years prior to the 2013-14 fiscal year, the village had never spent more than $76,000 annually for legal services

thanks Dan

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