North Riverside files lawsuit to allow fire privatization

Village argues labor law, contract does not prevent outsourcing services


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By Bob Uphues


The village of North Riverside filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court on Sept. 12, asking a judge to allow it to proceed with a plan to privatize its fire department in order to escape the "prospective devastating financial consequences" that would result from operating its full-time municipal fire department in the future.

In the lawsuit, the village claims that management and North Riverside Firefighters Union 2714 are at an impasse after "months" of negotiations. The first time the two sides sat down to discuss a new contract was June 24. Their final negotiation session, overseen by a federal mediator, took place Sept. 9.

However, firefighters dispute the village's contention that negotiations are at an impasse and this week will file an unfair labor practices complaint with the Illinois Labor Relations Board, according to the attorney representing Local 2714.

"They're misrepresenting the negotiation situation," said J. Dale Berry. "They have artificially created this impasse."

Firefighters are claiming that the village refuses to negotiate, and they complain that all of the village's efforts to fix North Riverside's financial situation focus on the fire department. They believe the village is still targeting firefighters, who opposed the mayor and village board majority during the 2013 election campaign.

"We think it's a targeted move to remove the firefighters," Berry said.

At the heart of the lawsuit is the village's contention that it should not in this instance be limited by language in its union contract with firefighters, and contained in the Illinois Labor Relations Act, that states no one side can unilaterally change employment conditions while negotiations or arbitration are pending.

The village's position is that "it can no longer responsibly enter into a 'new or amended agreement' with the union" because of its financial situation, which it lays out in detail in the suit.

Further, the village argues that neither the union contract nor labor law prevents the village from outsourcing its fire protection services "following a good-faith legislative determination of the present and future economic necessity to take such action, and following good-faith negotiations with the union."

The firefighters union remains unconvinced that the village has any right to terminate the conditions of its contract, which expired April 30.

"They can't do anything without a declaratory judgment," said Rick Urbinati, president of Local 2714. "The fact is, it's still in effect, and we're still working. We're not leaving work."

North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. stated last week that he would be disappointed if the village were unable to privatize the fire department by November.

As a result, the village's attorney, Burt Odelson, said he will be asking Judge Diane J. Larsen to expedite the case this week.

 "It's only a question of law," said Odelson. "I'm going to propose we file a motion for summary judgment, simply because it involves fire protection. I intend to push this as hard as I can to get things resolved."

Meanwhile, Berry said firefighters on Sept. 18 will invoke the interest arbitration clause in the union contract and ask the Illinois Labor Relations Board to provide a panel of arbitrators from which one would be chosen to handle the matter.

The arbitrator has the authority to issue an award. If the arbitrator rules against the village, the village board could reject the arbitrator's decision by a three-fifths vote. At that point, the case would be referred back to the arbitrator.

In addition, union firefighters from North Riverside and other neighboring communities met in Berwyn on Sept. 12 to discuss the possibility of pitching consolidation as a better resolution to voters as early as next spring.

Urbinati said the first step is to determine what the boundaries of such a consolidated department might be. After that, firefighters would have to get enough signatures on petitions in each community that would be affected to get a consolidation question on the ballot.

As for the lawsuit pending in circuit court, Urbinati expressed confidence that a judge would uphold the language in the contract and as expressed in labor law.

"I don't see how any judge can allow this," said Urbinati. "But if that's where this needs to go, we'll wait to hear what the judge has to say."

North Riverside Fire Lawsuit

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Reader Comments

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Kent Mazure  

Posted: September 17th, 2014 6:00 PM

I respect your opiinion, Carol, but don't agree with it. Let's see how many others agree with your opinion come the next village election.

Carol Spale from North Riverside, Illinois  

Posted: September 17th, 2014 5:35 PM

Kent, I would support trustees that I know from residents are there for them.....I try to see both pe2rspectives , but I know that I have seen people in power that care for others. and this to me is the most important use of power, to help others and this is what I have seen for the past 22 years that I have been involved with residents. Sorry I can not agree with you.

Kent Mazure  

Posted: September 17th, 2014 4:21 PM

Carol, I think any political party would be privileged to have your support. But, Carol, after having lived in the village for 30 years, much of that time while the village has been "governed" by VIP members, I think you're either blinded to what others see as incompetence, avarice, and despicable nepotism and cronyism or you have become accustomed to it and see it as the norm. Face facts. This village's financial situation is dire. How did it get that way, and what party has been power allowing it to get that way? Tell me, Carol, in light of the job performances of certain village officials, do you think they deserve to be making well into the one hundred thousands of dollars? Others, like me, think they need to get the hell out of Dodge as soon as possible. Of course, as long as the VIP members are in power that will likely never happen because it seems their golden rule is, "Above all, take care of your own", and, in this case, their own is not necessarily the village taxpayers. What could this village be like with another administration? One thing for sure, it likely couldn't be worse off financially. Carol, help us by casting your votes to expel Ms. Csajka and Mr.. Bianco from office in the next election.

Carol Spale from North Riverside, Illinois  

Posted: September 17th, 2014 3:24 PM

I feel so sad as I read and re read these comments....I know that water bill has risen because of Chicago raising their rates....not because of a certain party. After over 30 years of living here, I know which parties and groups care about residents.....I know the VIP helped me with those in need and continue to do that. I know that police and firemen and full time village employees have the same health insurance for their families, and they pay the same premiums in it. Wouldn't it be really wonderful if both groups show their caring for our residents who are our town and stop finding flaws with the past .. All was done , the services were done, even the creation of Neighborhood Services (which is not )but was created to make the blocks a family and to share resources. Can't we try to find solutions together and maybe trust one another....I wish this could be done....No group is being blackballed as the RB editorial states today, to dwell on the past does not help the present, let us help one another help this town..I

Jeff Dale from North Riverside  

Posted: September 16th, 2014 9:06 AM

Our elected leaders have only shown how nepotism and bribery devolve even the smallest government. A no-bid contract here. Side deal with a real estate investor here. Follow the money. Sadly the VIP will probably stay in office next election. Not ageist, but the 1 thing they wouldn't dare breath on ... The perks of being elderly in North Riverside. I'm sure the VIP would drive the older residents to the polls if they could. Until someone can muster the under 50 resident.. We're out of luck. Though, I'd really love to see what kickbacks the VIP got for bailing out Monroe. We can already see how profitable the Fire Dept. deal will be.

Kent Mazure  

Posted: September 14th, 2014 8:13 AM

In my opinion, and I think a number of other village residents may share it, it has been a lack of effective financial leadership and financial planning for a decade or more by our elected village officials and upper-level village managers that has resulted in our current fiscal situation. With one exception. They have taken care of their own quite well, haven't they? Previous comments have noted the incredulous timing of pay raises and over-the-top salaries for certain of our village officials. Some make nearly as much money in their positions that employees in comparable positions make in, for example, Orland Park which has four or times the number of residents and many more businesses. A Sun times article referenced the relatively high number of friends and family of VIP politicians or village officials on the village payroll. Yes, they have taken and continue to take care of themselves very, very well. Where do you think that some of the cost-savings achieved by fire department privatization will be allocated? Well, what about another raise for Mr. Belmonte and for Mr. Kutt, and what about hiring more friends and family?

Berwyn Firefighters from Berwyn, Illinois  

Posted: September 13th, 2014 10:54 PM

Public safety decisions should be made by the people who understand it best, firefighters, not, for-profit companies and politicians. This action can and should be avoided. Looking back upon this situation, you know in your heart of hearts, the answers to these challenges can be traced back to the past. You must now look at the reality of the present and the dreams of your future and ask yourselves, have you done all you can to avoid, what could have a devastating effect on your community? The Village of North Riverside deserves a level of services that cannot be achieved with a "race to the bottom" when it comes to funding or professionalism. I implore you to look at your budget again and decide what services you want to provide rather than the price tag attached to them. North Riverside is a place where people want to live, the residents will pay for the privilege, and others (including businesses) will continue to follow. The sustainable future of a professional full-time fire department in North Riverside lies in your willingness to ask more from those who reap the benefits of living here today. Live up to your motto, "A Small Community with a Big Heart". Felix A Greco President Berwyn Fire Fighters Association Local 506

Berwyn Firefighters from Berwyn, Illinois  

Posted: September 13th, 2014 10:53 PM

An open letter to the North Riverside politicians: First, I would like to thank you for your service to the community. While it may be a joy to serve when coffers are flush, the past few years of constricting budgets have certainly made your job tougher. For the sake of transparency, I am a professional Berwyn firefighter. I respond to your community for mutual aid and rely on the professional firefighters currently employed by your village to respond to my community as well. Those who were fortunate to be born in or near the North Riverside area have seen quite a change in the landscape (from a sleepy bedroom community to rows of houses, shopping centers and beautiful parks), but all of the original charm has not been lost. North Riverside is no different than any other community, the demands for services remain and have increased over the years. I am confident that I am not alone in my concerns for the future of your village. It is my belief that if you want something, you must be willing to pay for it. Local law enforcement, fire fighters and public works are the backbone of every community. North Riverside has grown, and public safety must reflect that growth. You must be committed to the protection of every member of your community, and you should not compromise through "acceptable risk" your investments in manpower or professionalism. Unfortunately, through poor leadership over the past decade and non-payment of required retirement contributions (as mandated by the State of Illinois) the village has now become a battleground for what politicians believe is their way out of their contractual agreements. Contracting out traditional firefighter roles and responsibilities to a for-profit company, a company that will make decisions based on their bottom line and not for the concern or safety of your residents is not a wise decision.

Kent Mazure  

Posted: September 12th, 2014 6:28 PM

" ... because of the extraordinary present and prospective devastating financial consequences faced by the Village ... ". The focus for this financial precipice the village is teetering on should be on one factor and one factor alone. The elected members of the VIP that have been and continue to be running our village. What party was in power when the potential negative impact of the financial crisis might have been predicted and stopped in its tracks? What party was in power when so-called "profound foresight" was nowhere to be found, and the economic downturn hit the village like a blow from an unexpected sledge hammer? What party has been in power when water rates were raised, and when the village streets were allowed to crack like fault lines were running through them making them look like miniature versions of the Beirut Highway? Yet, at least one trustee continues to have Cadillac health insurance costing $20,000.00 or so a year of taxpayers' money for just what was that exactly? There are two VIP trustees running for office in the next election. One's health insurance costs are the taxpayer-subsidized $20,000.00 mentioned earlier. The other seems to be a tow-the-VIP line hardliner that likely will continue to follow in the back-tracking and faltering footsteps of past and present VIP members. Haven't we had enough of that? Aren't we completely fed up with it? Isn't it time to do some real thorough house-cleaning?

Jim Michalek from North Riverside, Illinois  

Posted: September 12th, 2014 5:03 PM

Thank you Mayor Hermanek for wasting more of our tax dollars with this frivolous lawsuit. The only people to benefit from it are the lawyers.... Oh wait, that's your profession... There are only two reasons you are continuing this push for privatization....Your Hatred for Local 2714, because they wouldn't back you in the last election. And your loyalty to Paramedic Services Inc. It doesn't take long for one to see why you are so loyal to them... After all, they continue to fund your political pocket book. A simple search of the D2's show that. But enough is enough. Please quit playing politics with residents lives and safety. Paramedic Services Inc is a FOR PROFIT company, their employees have no loyalty or connection to the Village of North Riverside. We as tax payers are tired of the corruption and back room politics.

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