Decision date for North Riverside looms next month

Judge could rule to terminate firefighters' contract on Dec. 18

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By Bob Uphues


It's not just the future of the North Riverside Firefighters Union Local 2714 that could be at stake when both sides meet again in court on Dec. 18. It could be the future of public employee unions, period.

The village of North Riverside contends that its responsibility to honor the union contract ended when the village declared it to be at an impasse with the firefighters union in September.

That's when the village filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court, asking a judge to declare the contract, which expired on April 30, null and void in order to allow North Riverside to hire Paramedic Services of Illinois (PSI), a private company, to take over firefighting services for the village. The company has provided the village with paramedic services for almost 30 years.

On Dec. 18, Judge Diane Larsen is expected to make a ruling with respect to the village's contention that the contract is terminated. How she will rule is the wild card.

"She may rule or she may take it under advisement," said J. Dale Berry, the local counsel for the firefighters' union. "But we'll get to the merit of the claims."

If Larsen does rule in favor of the village, it could have a monumental effect on how labor contracts with municipalities are interpreted. Language in contracts for police officers and firefighters include no strike, no lockout provisions to allow negotiations and arbitration to occur after contracts expire without putting public safety at risk.

North Riverside itself has clung to that interpretation in the past. The most recent firefighters' contract was approved more than two years after the previous deal expired.

"It's an attractive solution for people looking for easy answers," Berry said of the village's belief that it can unilaterally walk away from contract negotiations by citing an impasse.

North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. said that if the court rules in the village's favor "it would change the whole playing field."

"We remain optimistic that the judge will rule that when a contract expires, it expires," Hermanek said.

Since the village filed its lawsuit on Sept. 12, several things have happened. The firefighters union responded to the suit by filing an unfair labor practice complaint with the Illinois Labor Relations Board and, at the same time, filed a demand for compulsory arbitration.

The Illinois Labor Relations Board agreed with the union's demand for arbitration and chose an arbitrator. The first arbitration session is scheduled for Nov. 24.

Additionally, on Oct. 1 the firefighters' union received word that it would be granted legal assistance from International Association of Firefighters through the union's law firm, Woodley & McGillivary, based in Washington, D.C. That firm's lead counsel in the North Riverside case is Sara Faulman.

On Oct. 30, the village's attorney, Burt Odelson, filed an amended complaint in Cook County court, adding the Illinois Labor Relations Board as a defendant. And on Nov. 17, Odelson made a motion to prevent contract arbitration from beginning.

While the judge ruled that arbitration could move forward, she also ruled that if North Riverside refused to participate in the Nov. 24 session, it wouldn't prejudice the court against the village in terms of its lawsuit seeking to terminate the contract.

In other words, nothing that happens during arbitration will have any effect until after the judge rules on the merits of the village's lawsuit on Dec. 18.

While the judge could rule in favor of the village, she could also rule that the court is not the place to resolve the dispute. Rather, she could rule that arbitration is where the dispute ought to be settled.

If that happens, Odelson said he would immediately appeal the case to the Illinois Court of Appeals.

Village officials had hoped to be able to privatize the fire department this year, but the court case has moved slower than officials had hoped for.

Odelson said that he's happy with the progress of the case, saying "speed has always been paramount to this case."

"This has been lightning speed when you look at cases in Cook County," Odelson said.

Meanwhile, North Riverside firefighters and firefighters from surrounding communities are expected to go door-to-door this weekend in the village, passing out information regarding the village's proposal to privatize fire services.

"It'll be a quick handout of information that residents aren't getting," said Rick Urbinati, president of North Riverside Firefighters Union Local 2714.

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Jim Michalek from North Riverside, Illinois  

Posted: November 22nd, 2014 7:53 PM

continued.... Have you looked at the turn over with PSI? There is only 1 village in the entire state that has PSI contracted for firefighting duties and that is Lincolnwood. The only "career" employees for PSI are members that have not been able to join a full time professional department. You did have one fact correct when you stated that every firefighter in Illinois is certified through the same fire academies. That is how a firefighter receives their "Basic Firefighter" certificate. That is the minimum requirement needed to be a firefighter. That is the only certificate that most of the PSI employees have. Do we really want to be protected by the MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS?? How can you continue to tell the voters that the village will be as safe with PSI when it's employees only have the minimum training? Some of our current professional firefighters are already cross trained as paramedics. It is a huge benefit to the public like you stated, so why not have them take over the ambulance and get rid of PSI, and save that money? Is it because PSI donates so much money to your campaign? I would hate to think that you would put our village's safety at risk over political favors??

Jim Michalek from North Riverside, Illinois  

Posted: November 22nd, 2014 7:52 PM

After receiving the letter last week that Mayor Hermanek wasted our tax dollars on, I have a question for Mayor Hermanek. You made a statement in your letter stating, "During the Carson's store fire last week, our mutual aid neighbors, many of whom are part-time, volunteer and non union, as well as PSI paramedics, worked alongside North Riverside firefighters and were instrumental in protecting our community." Where are you getting your information from? There are NO volunteer departments anywhere in our area. The following departments responded to the fire; Berwyn, Broadview, Cicero, Forest park, Brookfield, Riverside, and Lyons. The only departments that are part time out of that bunch would be Riverside and Lyons. I don't know what type of math you learned in school, but it looks like the majority of responding departments were full time, professional departments. If you listen to the radio traffic, you will see that Riverside had a very long response time, something that is the result of not having a full time professional fire department. Please just look back to the Landmarks article on July 28th 2014, where Riverside had an 11 minute response time to a structure fire. That is 5 minutes over the national average for an acceptable response time. If you listen to the radio traffic from the Carson's fire, you would also notice that the North Riverside Fire Chief never took command of his own fire. Forest Park's Deputy Chief ran the entire fire scene and did an amazing job. Why is the village giving the fire chief a take home vehicle to respond to fires if he isn't even going to take charge of the fire once he gets on scene? The next comment that I must question is you statement "PSI has over 250 experienced firefighters with an average 15 years of experience who are ready to join North Riverside's fire protection team. Most are also cross-trained as paramedics, a huge benefit to the public." Have you looked at the turn over with PS

Shawn Heerdt-Amador from Chicago, Illinois  

Posted: November 22nd, 2014 10:08 AM

The privatization effort is part of a bigger umbrella of efforts that are funded by a bigger force. Big businesses and the super super rich want to pay less taxes and be handed profits for what they invest in. So, privatization is happening all over the place--correctional centers, schools, fire departments, police, hospitals, and with anything that's public. In a privatized setting they are allowed to cut staff, cut more resources, which puts us in more danger and without the services we often need. It sucks and we, as a country need to get educated on how this is affecting us. We need to vote to help our own interests, not just what we see on TV and advertizing. What else is scary, is that privatized fire departments have charged families $20,000 for their services after houses have been burnt down!

Kent Mazure  

Posted: November 21st, 2014 9:48 PM

For me, as a North Riverside resident, the sad truth is that this mayor and what I perceive to be, his tag along lackeys referred to as "trustees" have done relatively little of a positive nature to enhance our community. Tacking on artificial fees to water bills, failing to properly repair and to upkeep the infrastructure (take a look at the numerous "earth quaked" streets), and now proposing to raise our property taxes are minor examples of what I see as their governmental ineptitude. Probably the most obvious example of their poor governance is, in my opinion, how they've managed to seed and germinate controversy, dissent, and conflict within our community. Rather than bringing the community together to achieve common goals, it's my perception that they've fostered divisiveness and hard feelings. Folks, there's an election coming up in the near future in which three candidates of their party are running for trustee. I think we would do well as a community to make sure that anyone, and I mean anyone, other than them gets voted in. Voting against them is voting against controversy, discord.

Felix Greco from Bolingbrook, Illinois  

Posted: November 21st, 2014 9:00 PM

Once again, Mayor Hermanek has sent out letters to the North Riverside residents amazingly fraught with distortions, half-truths and lies, at the tax-payers expense, I might add. Let me take the time to share with you some of his fairy-tales. What about your safety? For years, the Village of North Riverside have been protected by professional full-time union firefighters, who have to be certified by the Illinois State Fire Marshall's Office, test for the position, go through a background check and a physical agility test. They train daily; they give back to the community and care about each and every resident. Yes, they have had to work alongside numerous part-time PSI employees, who work for a FOR PROFIT company, whose only concern is their OWN bottom line. There really is no way of knowing who those PSI employees are because the village does not do a background check on those people. It is left up to PSI. How stringent are they in their screening? According to reports, the following mutual aid companies responded to the Carson's fire, Broadview, Forest Park, Berwyn, Brookfield, Oak Park, Riverside, Cicero and Lyons. Every one of those departments are professional full-time union departments, the only exception being, Lyons and Riverside. The Lyons Fire and Riverside departments showed up with two individuals each and the Riverside Fire department showed up with around a 30 minute response time. PSI paramedics did absolutely NO FIREFIGHTING while at the scene of the fire. All other fire departments showed up with a minimum of four professional full-time union firefighters.

Felix Greco from Bolingbrook, Illinois  

Posted: November 21st, 2014 8:59 PM

Consider PSI? PSI, the FOR PROFIT company was replaced in the City of Berwyn with professional full-time union firefighter/paramedics, after the union negotiated with the city and showed them savings over a thirty year time period. PSI, until then had no-bid contracts, as they do with most of the communities they serve. The North Riverside Fire Fighters Local 2714 offered to have their own firefighters cross-trained and take on the paramedic work, using the model in Berwyn. Currently, some of those professional full-time firefighters are already paramedics and have to maintain their license through the Loyola medical system. As for Mayor Hermanek's claim, a North Riverside firefighter or lieutenant has salary and benefits of $200,000-$230,000. That is an outright, LIE! If that is the case, where do I sign up? The only reason the village is facing deficits and shortfalls is because your politicians have stuck their head in the sand for so many years and refused to look to the future sustainability of their village. Experience? Does PSI have experienced firefighters, yes they do and most of them work in the Village of Lincolnwood, the only municipality in the State of Illinois that hires a private company for both fire and paramedic services. The PSI employees that have walked through the doors in Berwyn and most other communities numbers well into the hundreds. PSI is a training ground for EMT's and paramedics, a revolving door of employees who seek something better. Ask any EMT or paramedic who worked for them, why they left and you will hear the same answer over and over. They wanted better benefits, salary, vacation time, pension etc. In Berwyn, we have many former PSI employees who realized that their ticket to a better life was with a professional full-time union department

Felix Greco from Bolingbrook, Illinois  

Posted: November 21st, 2014 8:58 PM

What was offered? The Village of North Riverside obviously does not believe in the collective bargaining rights the firefighters have earned and fought for in the State of Illinois. Your village politicians are being convinced, once a collective bargaining agreement ends, that's it, done, over, kaput! Sorry, Mayor Hermanek, you should know better, you have served long enough to know that is not how the system works. Unfortunately, the same tactic was tried in Berwyn, by a previous administration who thought the very same thing. They found out differently. Oh and they were being advised by the same attorney the Village of North Riverside is using now. I urge all North Riverside taxpayers to FOIA the amount of money being spent on legal fees to fight the union. Your tax dollars are being wasted! Did the Village fail to make payments to the pension fund? Ummmmm, YES, it is all part of public record. The $700,000 the village alleges they will save by privatizing is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. The village for years had underfunded the pension system and in the last few years made ZERO contributions. Now, you tell me, if you did not pay your mortgage, wouldn't the mortgage lender repossess your home? The pension liability will still be there and has to be paid into the future for the current retirees. Just so you know, I will be one of those "outsiders" who will be knocking on your door to explain why privatizing is such a bad idea. Not a negative message, but the truth, because you as a taxpayer deserve the truth, not distortions, half-truths and lies. Felix A. Greco President Berwyn Fire Fighters Association Local 506

Steve Smith from North Riverside, Illinois  

Posted: November 21st, 2014 12:06 PM

I too received the Mayor's letter. Having followed this development since it's inception, I find it incredulous that the Mayor could state in his letter that the Village is NOT in this precarious position because they failed to make payments in the past. Isn't that exactly why the Department of Insurance has forced them to answer for their previous actions? In addition, this letter states that this will save more than $700,000/year. What about the payments for those that are already collecting a pension? Finally, are the employees of the PR firm the Village hired to handle this attempted takeover all tax paying village residents? There doesn't seem to be a problem with these outsiders pushing the Village's agenda....hmmm...lots of dubious 1/2 truths and will be interesting to hear the firemen's claims.

Kent Mazure  

Posted: November 21st, 2014 11:44 AM

I don't know about you, but I definitely want to hear what these "outsiders" have to say.

Kent Mazure  

Posted: November 21st, 2014 11:40 AM

Paul's comment is a hard act to follow, but it does raise an interesting point in my mind that I'd like to expand on. This mayor and a number of his trustees seem to me to have an axe to grind, and I wonder if it doesn't go beyond the financial concerns of the village? Just yesterday, I received a letter from the mayor, and I assume most North Riversiders did as well, outlining the same old arguments for privatization in an apparent effort to get out in front of the door-to-door, fire-fighter campaign planned for the village this weekend. The campaigning fire-fighters are referred to as, "Outsiders who do not pay taxes and vote in our village ..." as if village residents should close their eyes, cover their ears, and refuse to listen to what these fire-fighters have to say. These "outsiders" couldn't possibly have anything of merit to say, and we should all just fall unquestioningly into lock-step with the stance of the mayor and some trustees on the privatization issue? This mayor and a number of trustees seem to me to have spent a lot of time and a lot of resources (not to mention a lot of money on lawyers) on seeking to emasculate our fire-fighters and their union. All of this is in the cause, allegedly, of cost-savings. I've heard that a number of our fire-fighters opposed the current mayor in the last mayoral election. This couldn't possibly have anything to do with the privatization effort, could it? I've heard that PSI, the company that would receive the privatized contract, contributed to our current mayor's or his political party's coffers. This couldn't possibly have anything to do with the privatization effort and the potential awardee, could it? The fire-fighters' union lawyer said, "This privatizing thing is another way to open the door to patronage, nepotism, non-merit hiring". Patronage and nepotism couldn't possibly have anything to do with the privatization effort, could it? I don't know about you, but I definitely want to hear what these "outsider

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