Ill. state labor board sides with firefighters in lawsuit

The Illinois Labor Relations Board upheld a decision that found City Hall didn't respond in time to the union's unfair labor practice accusations


By Andy Kravetz
Journal Star, Peoria, Ill.

PEORIA, Ill. — The city of Peoria is 0-for-2 against the union that represents the city's firefighters.

Earlier this week, the Illinois Labor Relations Board upheld a decision in February by an administrative law judge here that found City Hall didn't respond in time to the union's unfair labor practice accusations, a clerical error that could cost Peoria millions of dollars.

In 2017, firefighters and the city made an agreement in the wake of "brownouts" that were instituted to help close a budgetary shortfall. (Photo/Pixabay)
In 2017, firefighters and the city made an agreement in the wake of "brownouts" that were instituted to help close a budgetary shortfall. (Photo/Pixabay)

City Hall plans an appeal to the Third District Appellate Court, city attorney Don Leist said Saturday.

"We should have never been here in the first place," said Ryan Brady, the local's president. "The agreement was in place to keep the machines open. ... It's just a blatant sense of arrogance that has gone on."

The agreement Brady refers to was made between the firefighters and the city in 2017 in the wake of "brownouts" that were instituted to help close a budgetary shortfall. Local 50 cried foul and said the brownouts were an unfair labor practice as the agreement eliminated some unfilled positions in return for keeping the fire apparatus online.

They sued, and last fall the city missed a deadline because the complaint and other documents were sent to an attorney's old place of employment. The administrative law judge found the city in default and sided with the firefighters, ordering that the city:

  • restore the staffing levels of the Peoria Fire Department to levels it was at before May 21, 2018, when a series of brownouts was instated to help with budgetary issues.
  • compensate those who lost income by offering back pay to those who were eligible to work on the rescue squads.
  • resume bargaining with the local over staffing and work conditions.

The city appealed, saying it was a mistake, but on Aug. 13, the state labor relations board rejected the arguments and took the city to the task.

"Indeed, the City's lack of activity in the investigation of the charge, a charge which the City clearly had notice of, belies its contention that allowing the default to stand would come at a substantial cost to taxpayers," the panel wrote in the Aug. 13 decision. "If this case was so significant to the City and its residents, it stands to reason that the City would have been more vigilant during the investigation and in responding to communications from the Board."

The board also noted, in a timeline with dates and even times, when the city was put on notice about the complaint. The board wrote it appeared the city wanted another chance, something the board wasn't willing to do.

Leist said he felt the city did not have "a full and fair chance to be heard, and we believe that the (appellate) court will be very receptive to our arguments," with "substantial precedent" to overturn the labor board.

That appeal must be filed within 30 days.

The costs, Brady said, to put the trucks back online, to cover the back pay and to reinstate firefighters to the previous staffing levels could be near $4 million. Brady said the firefighters understand about budget constraints and they want to work with the city, but he also sent a warning:

"Don't mistake our kindness for weakness."

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©2019 the Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.)

 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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