The village of North Riverside filed a motion in Cook County Circuit Court on Monday, asking Judge Diane J. Larsen to rule that it has the authority to summarily terminate its contract with North Riverside Firefighters Union Local 2714 and allow it to privatize the department on Dec. 5.
The motion comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed by the village on Sept. 12 asking for the same right to terminate its union contract with firefighters, which expired April 30.
“At issue here is the simple reality that contracts do not exist in perpetuity,” said North Riverside’s attorney, Burt Odelson, in a press release issued Monday morning. “They have a finite start and end date, unless extended by mutual agreement of the parties.”
Both sides will appear in court Wednesday for a status hearing. At that hearing, Odelson said he will ask Larsen to seek a quick response from the union to the village’s motion. The judge may or may not honor that request.
The firefighters union still has not filed its answer to the original lawsuit. J. Dale Berry, the attorney for Firefighters Local 2714, must file that response by Oct. 17.
The village contends that the two sides are at an impasse after several rounds of contract negotiations, including ones in the presence of a federal mediator. Those bargaining sessions, says the village, were held in good faith.
The Sept. 12 lawsuit doesn’t ask the judge to consider anything but the village’s argument that, after bargaining in good faith and reaching an impasse, the village ought to be allowed to summarily terminate its contract with the union.
The village notes in its motion for summary judgment that even though it has given firefighters 60 days’ notice, it will not move to terminate the contract on Dec. 5 without a judge’s order.
But the firefighters union argues that the village did not bargain in good faith. On Sept. 19, the union filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the Illinois Labor Relations Board against North Riverside, charging that the village had no interest in negotiating a new agreement and engaged merely in “surface bargaining.”
The complaint states that the village never intended to bargain in good faith, as evidenced by a letter sent to residents by Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. on June 18, outlining the village’s plan to privatize the fire department. The first negotiating session between the village and firefighters was held June 24.
In addition, on Sept. 19, the union filed a demand for compulsory interest arbitration with the Illinois Labor Relations Board, demanding an arbitrator be chosen to settle the contract dispute.
However, on Monday, Odelson told the Landmark that the village will not participate in the arbitration process.
“There’s nothing to arbitrate. The contract has expired,” Odelson said.
If interest arbitration moves forward anyway, said Odelson, the village would seek to stay that action in court.
If the court rules in favor of the village, it could send shock waves through the state’s public employee unions. Such a ruling would seemingly make it possible for a municipality to terminate its union contracts when they expire with 60-days’ written notice.
Meanwhile on Oct. 2, the Illinois Department of Insurance delivered its findings regarding a meeting with village officials on June 26. At that meeting, the Department of Insurance ordered the village to show cause as to why it had not made required contributions to the police and fire pension funds in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.
During that time, the village had underfunded its pension contributions by $5.2 million.
In its ruling, the Department of Insurance ruled that the village failed to provide a sufficient reason for not making the contributions and ordered the village to submit “evidence of compliance” to the department within 30 days.
Since North Riverside does not have $5.2 to contribute to the funds, it likely will have to pay a $2,000 fine. More importantly, if the village fails to come into compliance by 2016, the state can begin to deduct up to one-third of its sales tax revenues from the village’s general fund to bring the village into compliance.
“The state is putting enormous pressure on municipalities to fully fund their public pension obligations. North Riverside is not the only community that does not and will not have the millions of dollars that will be required,” Odelson said in the press release. “Elected municipal leaders must have the ability to make legal and rational decisions that maintain vital services without being forced to declare bankruptcy.”