To be fair, Cook County Judge Diane Larsen has done the village of North Riverside no favors.
More than a year ago, the village filed a lawsuit in circuit court, asking for a judge to decide whether the village was within its rights to unilaterally terminate its contract with union firefighters.
The contract expired April 30, 2014. The village has claimed all along that the two sides engaged in contract negotiations, which ended in an impasse. At that point, the village says, it had no choice but to move ahead with its privatization plan. It sent termination notices to firefighters, effective December 2014.
But the village held off acting on its plan, waiting for the judge to rule on its motion to declare the contract null and void.
The firefighters’ union, for its part, disagreed with the village’s characterization of what had taken place in the summer of 2014. Sure, the contract expired. But, according to the union, the village refused to enter into contract negotiations until June.
By that time, according to the union, the village had made up its mind not to negotiate in good faith and had already crafted a plan to privatize the fire department. The union filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the Illinois Labor Relations Board and invoked contract arbitration, based on Illinois law that protects emergency services personnel, like police and firefighters, who are not allowed by law to strike.
From the start, the union’s lawyers argued that the circuit court was not the proper place to handle the matter. The proper place was before the Illinois Labor Relations Board.
That’s what Larsen ruled last week, 13 months after the village spent — well, at this point we don’t know exactly how much was spent, but it’s well into six figures — fighting this battle.
She could have made that determination a year ago. For whatever reason she didn’t and so here we are back at square one.
The village said it’s appealing the jurisdictional ruling, hoping the Illinois Court of Appeals kicks it back to the circuit court for a ruling.
Frankly, we don’t see that happening. From the start, we believed this was going to turn out poorly for the village. And every step of the way, the village has been turned back in court.
The two sides are scheduled to appear before the Labor Relations Board in December to argue the claim that the village didn’t negotiate in good faith. Based on everything we know about the case, we have to say it doesn’t look good for the village, which publicized its privatization plan before meeting with the union for its first negotiating session.
It’s time for the village to call it a day.
We can see no reason to keep spending money on a plan that in more than a year has gotten absolutely no legal traction.
It’s time to sit back down at the negotiating table, hammer out a contract with firefighters and move ahead. This battle is lost.