Posts Tagged North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr.

North Riverside considers privatizing the fire department (more)

Excerpts from the

An administrative law judge for the Illinois Labor Relations Board has ordered the village of North Riverside to rescind termination notices issued to firefighters in October 2014 and ordered it back to the bargaining table after rejecting the village’s claim that it had the right to unilaterally terminate the union contract.

Anna Hamburg-Gal, in a recommended decision and order dated March 25, ruled that the village engaged in unfair labor practices related to their plan to privatize firefighting services and outsource them to Paramedic Services of Illinois, which has provided paramedic services for the village for decades.

Specifically, according to Hamburg-Gal, the village engaged in what is known as “surface” bargaining when it met with the union during the late summer and early fall of 2014 to negotiate a new contract with firefighters.

The most recent union contract expired April 30, 2014, but the two sides did not sit down at the bargaining table until June 24, 2014. Months prior to that, however, the village had been planning to privatize the fire department.

In early January 2014, according to the recommended decision and order, Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. met with Village Attorney Burt Odelson to discuss whether privatization was feasible.

By sometime in February 2014, Hermanek had met with officials from PSI to see if the company could provide firefighting services and to tell them that the village wouldn’t seek competitive bids, the decision states.

In June of that year, PSI presented the village with an estimate that predicted the firm could provide firefighting services at savings of about $1 million compared to what the village was paying its union firefighters. Even before sitting down with the union at the bargaining table, the village published a letter to residents pitching privatization as an alternative.

Hamburg-Gal ruled that the village’s quick rejection of union proposals to consolidate firefighting services into a fire protection district or to form a private company that would serve to provide qualified firefighters to the village “indicate a rush to reach impasse rather than meaningful consideration of the union’s proposals.”

Arguments that the village didn’t have time to go through a referendum petition process for consolidation, stated Hamburg-Gal, were undercut by a village proposal to offer firefighters an 11-year contract that would gradually phase out union firefighters and replace them with PSI employees.

North Riverside “was willing to wait 11 years required to reap the full cost-savings of its own privatization plan,” Hamburg-Gal wrote. “Surely, a modicum of investigation into the union’s novel cost-savings proposal would not have taken so long.”

The recommended decision and order also states that the village improperly changed the terms and conditions of employment while interest arbitration was pending and “interfered, restrained and coerced employees” when the village issued termination notices shortly after the union invoked interest arbitration proceedings.

Hamburg-Gal rejected the village’s contention that it had the right to unilaterally terminate its contract with firefighters, who are considered “protective service employees” and are not allowed to strike.

Rather, she wrote, the law’s “specific prohibition against unilateral changes to protective service unit employees’ terms and conditions of employment applies where the employees at issue are firefighters.”

J. Dale Berry, the attorney representing the firefighters’ union said the village’s interpretation of the law was “ridiculous” and the recommended decision highlighted that.

“The cornerstone of their strategy was the [interpretation] of [that part of the law], and she rejected it as being without merit,” Berry said.

In response to the recommended decision and order, Hermanek told the Landmark that the absence of any sanctions, such as awarding the union its demand for the village to pay its attorneys’ fees, was a win for the village.

Hermanek and union leaders have met informally several times since late 2015, and the mayor said he hopes both sides can still reach an agreement beneficial to both sides.

“Without sanctioning us, she’s telling us to bargain with them,” Hermanek said. “That’s what I’ve been doing. I’m trying to get a long-term contract done.”

The village and the union are allowed to file exceptions to the administrative law judge’s recommended decision and order within 30 days.

Hermanek also said, for now, the village will not rescind its termination letters to firefighters, since it still is waiting on a ruling from the Illinois Court of Appeals.

“We’re not going to remove the termination notices, but we will continue to bargain,” Hermanek said.

North Riverside filed a lawsuit in circuit court in October 2014 after declaring it had reached an impasse in negotiations with the fire union.

The village at the time filed a motion asking Circuit Court Judge Diane Larsen to rule on its claim that it had the authority to unilaterally terminate the union contract. Larsen ruled that she didn’t have jurisdiction because the village had not exhausted all avenues for remedies, which included arbitration by the ILRB.

Hermanek contended that Larsen made her ruling believing the village to be right, legally speaking, but didn’t wish to overturn decades of labor law precedent.

The appellate court could decide to send the matter back to Larsen or it could make a ruling on its own that the village has the right to terminate the union contract, though that would be unlikely, according to Berry.

“The chances of that are, like, zero,” he said.

thanks Dan

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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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North Riverside considers privatizing the fire department (more)

Excerpts from the

It’s been nearly a year since the village of North Riverside filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court asking a judge to rule that the village contract with the firefighters’ union was terminated, allowing North Riverside to move ahead with a plan to privatize firefighting services.

In June the village’s attorney, Burt Odelson, succeeded in getting Judge Diane Larsen to set a date to rule on the village motion for summary judgment. That hearing has been set for Sept. 9 at the Richard J. Daley Center in Chicago.

“Either we’ll have a decision that day, or we’ll argue [the case] and have a decision very shortly after,” Odelson said.

In the meantime, however, the firefighters’ union has filed a counter claim against the village, arguing that any attempt to privatize the department runs afoul of the Illinois constitution.

Odelson called the counter claim another delaying tactic by the union, which has succeeded in dragging out the lawsuit for 11 months. Odelson also called the counter claim illegal since the firefighter union didn’t first file a motion for leave to file a counter claim before filing it on July 24.

The union has since filed a motion for leave to file. That motion will be considered on Aug. 26.

Attorneys for the firefighters are using as the basis for their argument the pension protection clause of the state constitution, which in May was reinforced by the Illinois Supreme Court. At that time, the Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling overturning a pension reform law passed by the Illinois General Assembly and signed by Gov. Pat Quinn.

Regardless of the state’s ability to afford its pension obligations, the court ruled, the Illinois constitution expressly forbids state pension benefits that have been agreed to by contract to be “diminished or impaired.”

Attorneys J. Dale Berry and Robin Burroughs argue in their July 24 circuit court filing on behalf of North Riverside Firefighters Union 2714 that the village of North Riverside’s action not only seeks to diminish their clients’ contractually agreed to pension benefits, the village seeks to eliminate them completely.

Late last year, the village of North Riverside formally terminated all of its firefighters, though they remain on the job since the village’s lawsuit has not been resolved yet by the court.

“The village is saying they’re abolishing the fire department, so the pension benefits will be frozen,” Berry said. “That makes what they’re doing unconstitutional.”

The counter claim asks Judge Larsen to rule that the village’s plan to terminate its union firefighters and outsource firefighting services as unconstitutional and to dismiss the village’s lawsuit.

Odelson said what the village seeks to accomplish has nothing to do with the state’s pension protection clause. Such a ruling in favor of the union, said Odelson, would “give a union a life contract, that you can never lay off or terminate anyone. It’s ludicrous.”

In the meantime, the Illinois Labor Relations Board continues to wait on moving forward with contract arbitration between the two sides until the circuit court case has been settled.

North Riverside’s firefighters have been working without a contract since April 30, 2014. That summer, Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. announced his plan to use Paramedic Services of Illinois (PSI) to take over firefighting services for the village. PSI has served as the village’s paramedic vendor for almost 30 years.

After a number of contract negotiating sessions in late summer 2014, the village declared an impasse, said its contract with firefighters was no longer valid and filed suit to have a judge rule it could unilaterally terminate its union contract, despite no strike/no lockout language.

The union contends the village never sought to negotiate in good faith and already had made up its mind to privatize the fire department. It filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the village in response in addition to invoking arbitration. Those matters are still pending.

thanks Dan

the full series of articles on this topic can be found HERE

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North Riverside considers privatizing the fire department (more)

Excerpts from an update in the

Last June, North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. announced his goal of quickly privatizing the fire department and saving around $700,000 during the 2014-15 fiscal year.

But after a court hearing last week, it became clear that no action on privatization will be taken before the fiscal year ends, and it may be well into the next fiscal year that the issue is settled if the village continues to press for privatization.

“The union has decided to drag things out as long as possible,” said Cary Horvath, one of the two attorneys representing the village at the March 13 hearing.

To date, the village has spent about $77,000 in legal fees related to the lawsuit, according to Village Administrator Guy Belmonte in response to a Freedom of Information request from the Landmark.

The next hearing will be on April 17, just two weeks prior to the end of the 2014-15 fiscal year. If all goes as planned, the judge would then set a schedule for both sides to lay out arguments related to the village’s motion for summary determination. Horvath, said the soonest the judge might get back to the village’s motion for summary determination could be June.

The village in September 2014 filed suit to have a judge declare that it had the right to unilaterally terminate its contract with the union, since the two sides had reached an impasse in negotiating a new deal.  And in October 2014, the village sent a 60-day termination notice to firefighters, but promised to delay action until a judge ruled on the question of whether the village had the right to declare the contract null and void.

The union rejected that argument and filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the village with the Illinois Labor Relations Board. The union argues that its contract remains in place until a new deal can be reached and that the village had bargained in bad faith.

Late last year, the judge sided with the union, which has now taken depositions from both Hermanek and North Riverside Finance Director Sue Scarpiniti. The union will also take a deposition from Fire Chief Brian Basek prior to the April 17 hearing.

In the meantime, the village is still waiting on a ruling from the Illinois Court of Appeals related to Larsen’s decision to delay a ruling on its motion for summary determination.

Additionally, both sides will appear before the Illinois Labor Relations Board on April 14 and 15 in connection with the union’s unfair labor practice complaint.

North Riverside Firefighters Union Local 2714 has fought the village’s attempt to privatize the department since the proposal was announced last summer. Initially, the village proposed allowing all firefighters to keep their jobs and become employees of Paramedic Services of Illinois (PSI), immediately ending additional pension burdens.

Later, the village proposed an 11-year contract where present firefighters would maintain their union status and would be replaced as they retired with PSI employees.

The union has rejected all of the village solutions. Instead, they’ve proposed training all union firefighters as paramedics and eliminating PSI, which provides the village’s paramedic service. The village has rejected that solution, which also included hiring additional firefighters, as too costly.

thanks Dan

Previous posts on this topic are HERE.

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North Riverside considers privatizing FD (more)

The Riverside-Brookfield Landmark has an article on the continuing push to privatize the fire department in North Riverside:

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.”

North Riverside Fire Lawsuit

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North Riverside considers privatizing FD (more)

The has an article on the continued negotiations involving a possible privatization of the North Riverside Fire Department.

North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. could decide as early as this week whether to move ahead with a plan to privatize the village firefighting services.  While there’s no timeline for action, Hermanek indicated he would quickly move to privatize the department if no progress is made during a negotiating session with union members scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 3.

This time the two sides won’t be facing each other across the negotiating table. Instead, they’ll be in separate rooms and the session will be in the hands of a federal labor mediator.  Mediators are required by law to become involved in negotiations when there is an impasse.

“We’re very, very far apart,” said Hermanek. “We’ll see if we can make some headway. If not, something will happen.”

That “something” will be turning over the village’s fire services to Paramedic Services of Illinois (PSI), which for nearly three decades has provided paramedic services for North Riverside.

The village’s privatization offer to firefighters included extending all 16 union members job offers with PSI at their present salaries. However, the firefighters’ benefits would change. Most important for firefighters, they would no longer accumulate pension benefits. Instead, they would qualify for pension benefits they’ve already earned, but moving forward would be part of a 401(k) plan. Firefighters would no longer be employees of the village, but of PSI.

Firefighters, however, have so far rejected the village’s offer and claim that any move to privatize the department would be illegal. They have threatened to fight any such action in the courts. Hermanek believes that privatizing the department is legal. He also wants to move quickly, he said, because the Illinois General Assembly may move this fall to outlaw privatization bids like the one being proposed in North Riverside unless the question is put to voters.

Hermanek said he’s heard that state senate Democrats are ready to introduce a bill regarding fire department privatization when the General Assembly reconvenes in November.

“That’s why I don’t want this dragging on,” Hermanek said.

The sides remain far apart, he said, despite what he called a “significant compromise” on the part of the village in negotiations. He declined to specify what that compromise involved. Firefighters would like to see PSI eliminated from the equation by training union firefighters to be paramedics. The village contends that solution will increase the village’s pension obligation.

Rick Urbinati, the president of North Riverside Firefighters Union Local 2714, said he had not yet seen an updated offer from the village but expected to see something Sept. 3.

“From what I understand, they have a compromise proposal for us,” said Urbinati. “We haven’t seen it, so I have no idea what kind of compromise they’re planning at this point. Right now we’re at where we’ve always been.”

The village contends that the burden of firefighters’ pensions — it now stands at about $1.8 million annually and is growing — is too much to bear. One of the reasons the pension burden is so high right now is that, during the past decade, North Riverside has failed to adequately meet its fire and police pension obligations. In several of those years, the village failed to make any contribution toward pensions for police and firefighters.

Firefighters have also complained that they are being made a scapegoat for problems village officials have created over more than two decades, consciously deciding to spend money on programs such as lifetime health insurance for village hall retirees, failing to increase property taxes for more than two decades, and the now-discontinued practice of subsidizing water and waste hauling services for residents.

Union members also believe they are being targeted because North Riverside Firefighters Union Local 2714 backed a political slate opposed to Hermanek and the majority VIP Party in the spring of 2013.

thanks Dan

The sequence of previous posts on this topic:

Post #2

Post #3

Post #4

Post #5

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