Judge punts on North Riverside fire privatization lawsuit

Larsen says circuit court doesn't have jurisdiction

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By Bob Uphues


A Cook County judge has punted on the question of whether the village of North Riverside has the right to summarily terminate its contract with union firefighters and replace them with private firm.

On Thursday afternoon, Judge Diane Larsen also ensured the question won't be decided at the circuit court level. A hearing whose outcome might have set a precedent for Illinois labor law instead lasted all of five minutes, with Larsen ruling the circuit court had no jurisdiction over the matter.

Instead, Larsen stated, the Illinois Labor Relations Board should be the venue where the village should have made its case before turning to the courts.

"There must be an exhaustion of remedies, and that has not occurred," Larsen said.

The village had filed its suit seeking termination of its contract with the union in September 2014.

Burt Odelson, the attorney representing the village of North Riverside, disagreed with Larsen's ruling, claiming the circuit court does have jurisdiction to make rulings on contracts.

Odelson said he would file a notice of appeal of Larsen's decision regarding the jurisdictional question on Friday and ask the Illinois Court of Appeals for an expedited briefing schedule.

"All I'm asking them to do is to say the [circuit] court has jurisdiction to state whether it's a valid contract," Odelson said. "I think [Larsen] was incredibly wrong by not hearing the case."

It's unclear how quickly the appellate court will take up the matter. But looming in the future for the village is an appearance with the firefighters union before the Illinois Labor Relations Board in mid-December.

That hearing will address an unfair labor practice complaint filed against the village in December 2014, alleging that village officials failed to bargain in good faith on a new union contract following the expiration of the prior contract at the end of April 2014.

That complaint also alleged that the village retaliated against union employees who engaged in protected union activities.

The village insists it did bargain in good faith and that the two sides reached an impasse in negotiations, which led to the village's decision to seek unilateral termination of its contract with union firefighters and replace them with employees from Paramedic Services of Illinois (PSI).

Another matter the village faces is contract arbitration, which Odelson insists is moot.

"We did go to the table; we reached an impasse. We declared the contract is over," Odelson said. "We went to the table, we're not going to the table [again]."

 However, a ruling made by Larsen last December would appear to argue against that interpretation. Larsen in December 2014 denied a motion by the village to delay contract arbitration and sent the matter to the Illinois Labor Relations Board.

An arbitrator was chosen and both sides appeared before him in January. The village participated in the arbitration hearing under protest. Odelson at that time filed motions with the arbitrator to both stay arbitration and to dismiss it.

Arbitrator Robert Brookins put the arbitration proceedings on on hold pending a decision by the circuit court, but he didn't dismiss them.

Now that Larsen has ruled she doesn't have jurisdiction, the village must engage in the arbitration process, which is spelled out by state law, said J. Dale Berry, the attorney for North Riverside Firefighters Union Local 2714.

"They wanted the court to approve their construct of [Illinois labor law] and to terminate interest arbitration, the contract and the employees and to substitute them with PSI," Berry said. "Now what's in place is mandatory language in the [Illinois Labor Relations] act. 

Email: buphues@wjinc.com Twitter: @RBLandmark

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Reader Comments

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Comment Policy

Felix Greco  

Posted: October 23rd, 2015 10:21 PM

Hey Sean, If you read the Editorial Opinion and the comments about the ruling made by the judge, you will see, I was right all along. Take your head out of the sand and wake up! Time for a change in your village!

Sean Stamper  

Posted: October 18th, 2015 5:51 PM

Yo, Felix- There you go, sticking your nose into the political arena of a town that you have NOTHING to do with again. Berwyn ends at Harlem Avenue. Let the North Riverside people make their own decisions without your unsolicited opinion.

Felix Greco  

Posted: October 16th, 2015 2:48 PM

Taxpayers, ask your elected officials if this is really worth pursuing? What is going to be gained by wasting more of your tax dollars. Think of what $500K could've done for the village, instead of fighting in court.

Renee Chiero  

Posted: October 16th, 2015 10:54 AM

North Riverside residents: The Village has spent $500K+ on a law suit against the North Riverside Firefighters Union-Local 2714 only to have it dismissed by a judge yesterday. The Village was told over a year ago that this was going to happen yet they still went a head and wasted YOUR tax money. Guess what? Now the Village of North Riverside wants to appeal the judge's ruling even after the judge strongly advised them to review Peoria vs Teachers before making that decision. They still plan on spending even more of YOUR tax money to get rid of your professional fire fighters. If this is okay with you, then fine. If not, spread the word.

Steven Spiro  

Posted: October 16th, 2015 7:48 AM

While at Mickey D's, I sat down and had a conversation with a dollar bill that I pulled from my pocket whose aspiration was to become a North Riverside tax dollar. Deeply concerned about his mental health, I inquired of him why in the world he would aspire to that. He immediately unfolded himself removing all wrinkles, and, standing up at-attention, he began proudly singing, in the most deeply passionate of ways, the R. Kelly song, "I believe I can fly". Neither needing or wanting to hear any more, I said to myself, "The buck stops here", and promptly exchanged him for a senior coffee. Later, in the restroom, where I observed the ultimate result of what this dollar bill accomplished for me, I couldn't help but harken back to the results of some of the village's more significant legal efforts.

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