Posts Tagged talk of privatizing municipal fire department

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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Oak Lawn Fire Department news

Excerpts from the

As the Village of Oak Lawn and Oak Lawn firefighters continue to battle in court over issues such as minimum manning, negotiations have reportedly not moved either side from their position and Village Manager Larry Deetjen has reportedly told trustees that other villages facing minimum manning mandates in their contract have chosen to disband their fire departments and privatize the services.

Deetjen, who masterminded the outsourcing of Oak Lawn’s union 911 dispatchers to Noncom, a private company in 2013 has threatened similar action in the past with regard to firefighting services or paramedic services. Since that time, Deetjen has made references to transitioning other municipal services to private or regional organizations.  Norcomm recently donated $1,000 to Mayor Sandra Bury.

According to one source close to the village’s negotiations, he told trustees that a community in California that had reached an impasse over the minimum manning issue, “voted to disband its department in its entirety and contract the service.” There was no indication given which community was referenced, but last year the City of San Bernardino’s city council voted 4-3 to outsource its fire services as part of a bankruptcy plan. Fire services were outsourced to San Bernardino County.

There would be no comparable service available from Cook County, for Oak Lawn to outsource to. The closest regional fire service would be the North Palos Fire Protection District, which serves Palos Hills, Worth, Hickory Hills, and parts of the nearby Cook County Forest Preserve. Joining a fire protection district would add another taxing body to Oak Lawn’s property tax bills.

Another potential option would be a private company contracted to provide fire services. Communities have shied away from this option due to legal issues surrounding mutual aid agreements between municipalities. Private service providers may not be subject to these agreements.

No public discussion has been had about this issue and no resolution of the minimum manning negotiations is expected until 2017.

thanks Dan & Dennis

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