The president of the North Riverside firefighters union complained last week that a Sept. 7 Landmark article about the union’s new contract with the village mischaracterized the nature of the negotiations with regard to specific concessions.

According to Rick Urbanati, president of International Association of Firefighters Local 2714, the union did not give up a longstanding health insurance perk in exchange for raises.

Rather, he said, firefighters agreed to changes in the way firefighters pay health insurance premiums in exchange for getting language about minimum staffing levels into the contract. Instead of paying a flat rate for premiums, firefighters must now pay a percentage of premiums.

“We wanted minimum staffing in the contract,” Urbanati said. “When we saw the percentage [for heath insurance premiums], we saw an opportunity to get that in there.”

The issue of minimum staffing surfaced in the summer of 2010, when the village unilaterally decided to change the minimum shift staffing from four to three in order to cut down on the amount of overtime it was paying. The first time the policy was implemented was in January 2011, and it prompted a complaint by the union against the village in March to the Illinois Labor Relations Board.

The labor board dismissed the complaint in June 2011, saying the union waited too long to file a complaint after the policy was first announced.

Under the new contract, minimum staffing per shift reverts to four firefighters.

Village Administrator Guy Belmonte said that the village didn’t negotiate any concessions on an issue-for-issue basis, but that concessions were offered as an economic package negotiated as a whole.

– Bob Uphues