On Sept. 14, the village charged North Riverside Firefighters Local 2714 with surface bargaining and improperly bargaining, saying the union has forced an impasse in negotiations by insisting on the elimination of the village’s private paramedic service provider, Paramedic Services of Illinois (PSI).

“The union has demanded the village terminate its contract with PSI as condition of any agreement,” the village’s complaint states.

The village filed the complaint with the state labor board after the two sides met on Aug. 31 and Sept. 8. 

But the union’s attorney waved off the complaint, saying those two meetings weren’t bargaining sessions at all and that the village has not complied with last month’s state labor board’s ruling.

That ruling required the village to post notice of the violations, rescind the termination notices and bargain in good faith. But the village has not posted the notice or rescinded the termination notices, according to J. Dale Berry, the union’s attorney.

Instead, the village has appealed the labor board’s ruling to the Illinois Appellate Court. 

“They are still disavowing that they committed an unfair labor practice,” Berry said. “We don’t have any prospects for bargaining unless they post notices and agree they committed an unfair labor practice.”

There are now two matters involving the two-year old contract dispute between North Riverside and its firefighters before the appellate court. The first is the village’s appeal of a Cook County Circuit Court judge’s ruling that she did not have jurisdiction over the village’s call for unilateral termination of the firefighters’ union contract.

That matter has been in the appellate court’s hands for 11 months. Now the village has appealed the state labor board’s unfair labor practice ruling.

Meanwhile, North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. said that despite the pending court matters, he wants to come to an agreement with firefighters and that the meetings on Aug. 31 and Sept. 8 were part of that effort.

“[The fire union] knew those were serious sessions,” said Hermanek. “We went there fully ready to bargain and get an agreement.”

Yet, correspondence between the two sides in the run up to those negotiating sessions indicate that they were approaching those meetings carefully.

In an Aug. 19 letter to village officials, union President Rick Urbinati requested a meeting with the village’s bargaining team, but made it clear discussions would include implementation of the labor board’s order.

When the two sides met, the village handed the union discussion items related to a new contract, but the village’s attorney made clear that “this is not considered a contract offer or proposal.”

Hermanek called that language “a legal formality because of the pending litigation.”

“Both Urbinati sending the letter and us meeting means that we want to get this done,’ Hermanek said. “In no way would [that language] stop us from trying to get a compromise.”

Berry said called the meetings in August and September “exploratory.”

“These weren’t negotiations,” Berry said.

Hermanek also complained that the union wouldn’t budge from its insistence on replacing PSI paramedics with low-cost part-time employees for a time while firefighters are trained to be paramedics.

The union contract and PSI’s contract with the village are separate deals, Hermanek said.

“They’re two distinct entities, but they’re tying it in,” Hermanek said. “We are trying to compromise, but it takes two to tango.”

Hermanek pointed to a new, unprecedented five-year contract with police officers and a new deal with police dispatchers as examples of the village’s interest in negotiating union contracts.

“We had no trouble getting police and telecommunicators settled, so maybe it’s not us,” Hermanek said.

Berry acknowledged that the firefighters’ union was seeking termination of the PSI contract, “but as a part of a negotiated settlement.”

The union wasn’t about to let go of its wish to terminate PSI’s contract, Berry said, when the village still won’t rescind termination notices it has issued to union firefighters.

“We’re not going to let them cherry pick our concessions,” Berry said. “We’re not giving anything unless they assure us of job security.

“They are still proposing to replace us.”

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