The Illinois Labor Relations Board last month ruled that the village had not engaged in surface bargaining with union firefighters before declaring an impasse, filing a lawsuit arguing the village had the right to void its union contract and issuing termination letters to all union firefighters in late 2014.
However, the labor board in a 4 to 1 vote on July 12 also ruled that the village had no right to unilaterally terminate its collectively bargained contract with firefighters.
“For us to decide the contract be terminated … brings us dangerously close to modifying the [Illinois Public Labor Relations Act], and that’s not our role,” said John Hartnett, chairman of the Illinois Labor Relations Board during the July 12 hearing in Springfield. “Our role is to interpret the act.”
Still, it was clear that there was some sympathy for the village’s position that it was acting as a result of precarious financial circumstances.
“When the employer is faced with a critical financial challenge, the village asks how it truly terminates a contract and a bargaining relationship that involved protected service employees so as to be able to pursue more cost-effective options for delivery of such services,” said Kathryn Zeldon-Nelson, attorney for the labor board.
Was the only alternative, Zeldon-Nelson wondered going through arbitration and “trusting the interest arbitrator to take cognizance of [the village’s] financial constraints”?
Just what it all means in terms of firefighters and the village coming to terms on a new contract is unclear, because not all of the loose ends remaining from the initial push to privatize firefighting services in the summer of 2014 have been tied up.
Both sides still await word from the Illinois Court of Appeals regarding Cook County Circuit Court Judge Diane Larsen’s October 2015 ruling that she didn’t have jurisdiction over the matter.
Also pending is contract arbitration that was demanded by the union and held in abeyance by the arbitrator until the circuit court case was disposed.
J. Dale Berry, the attorney for North Riverside Firefighters Local 2714, said he didn’t expect the appellate court to rule “for several months.”
But North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. said he expected some sort of movement on the firefighter situation soon.
“I expect a decision quickly,” Hermanek said. “It’s not going to be stagnant.”
Hermanek called the labor board’s decision that the village had not engaged in surface bargaining a “major victory” for the village.
Berry, however, said the labor board upheld the crux of the union’s argument – that the village could not unilaterally terminate the union contract or change the employment status of the firefighters.
“If he thinks that’s a major victory for the village, I’ll take the loss then,” Berry said.