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North Riverside ordered to reinstate firefighter

State labor board demands fired employee be 'made whole' for lost earnings

October 15th, 2019 1:30 PM

The Illinois Labor Relations Board has ordered North Riverside to reinstate a probationary firefighter who was terminated in January and "make him whole" for any lost earnings he suffered.

The Oct. 9 decision affirmed the recommendation made by an administrative law judge in April in response to an unfair labor practice complaint filed by North Riverside Firefighters Union Local 2714.

In May, the village of North Riverside filed exceptions to the administrative law judge's ruling. In their order issued last week, the state panel of the Illinois Labor Relations Board rejected those exceptions as "without merit."

We find that the [administrative law judge's'] finding and conclusions determining [North Riverside's] conduct violated the [Illinois Labor Relations Act] were well-reasoned and supported by the appropriate legal authority," the order states. "Nothing in the [village's] exceptions or supporting briefs compels to find otherwise."

But, in addition to affirming the administrative law judge's recommendation, the state panel went further. Judge Anna Hamburg-Gal had recommended that firefighter Robert Gill be reinstated as a probationary firefighter and to extend his probationary period.

Instead, the labor board ordered the village to reinstate Gill as a permanent firefighter, saying that extending the probationary period "will only serve to afford [the village] another opportunity to use the probationary period as an excuse to discharge Gill."

Gill is to be paid any loss of earnings, including back pay plus 7-percent interest.

Reached on Oct. 10, North Riverside Finance Director Sue Scarpiniti, in response to an inquiry from the Landmark, said she hadn't seen the order yet.

"I have not had an opportunity to access the financial impact this will have on the village," she wrote in an email.

Gill was one of three firefighters hired in early 2018. Just a month after the three were hired, the union filed an unfair labor practice complaint because the village refused to offer them the health insurance benefits outlined in the most recent union contract, which expired in 2014.

While the contract called for firefighters to be offered a PPO plan with low employee contributions and deductibles, the village in 2016 had moved away from that plan for its other employees, including union police employees, to PPO and HMO plans more favorable financially to the village.

Gill was in the midst of his probationary period with the department that June, when he injured himself while working out on a patio next to the fire station's workout room. 

A barbell fell on his back, fracturing a vertebra and requiring surgery. His doctor ordered 32 weeks of rehabilitation and conditioning, but in January 2019, prior to the end of Gill's probationary period, Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. terminated him.

At the termination meeting, according to the labor hearing records, Hermanek made a statement that appeared to link Gill's termination with the union's complaints over the insurance issue.

The labor board's state panel also ordered in their Oct. 9 ruling that the village must offer Gill and the other two firefighters hired in 2018 the PPO health insurance plan outlined in the most recent contract.

The union and village officials continue to try and hammer out a new long-term contract after the village's attempt to persuade the courts that it had the right to unilaterally terminate the old contract – essentially busting the union -- and then hire a private firm to provide firefighting services.

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