By Bob Uphues
Despite an assurance from North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. 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, Cary A. Horvath of Odelson and Sterk Ltd., 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.
In addition, 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.
It's unlikely the Supreme Court will accept the case, Hermanek admitted.
"I have no illusions that will happen," Hermanek told the Landmark. The mayor 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,' Hermanek 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?
Hermanek says that the village's law firm pledged to file the petition without charge.
"I told them that under no circumstances were we going to pay more," said Hermanek. "It's gratis by them."
But what happens if, by some chance, the Supreme Court takes the case?
"If they take it's because they are going to reverse something," Hermanek said. "That'd make it worth it."
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, J. Dale Berry, said he will file a response to the motion before the Nov. 27 deadline.
Berry said the village's theory of how to interpret the Illinois Labor Relations Act turns decades of accepted law on its head.
"There's no constitutional issue here," Berry said. "It's more of the same. They think if they throw enough stuff against the wall, something will stick."
Berry also dismissed the village's claim that there are two conflicting appellate court rulings that need to be resolved.
"That's crazy. There's a Supreme Court case on that one, which says it's not precedent," Berry said. "My expectation is that [the Supreme Court] will dispose of it relatively quickly."