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North Riverside fire privatization suit drags on

No court ruling coming before fiscal year ends

March 17th, 2015 11:59 AM

By Bob Uphues

Editor

Last June, North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. announced his goal of quickly privatizing the fire department and saving around $700,000 during the 2014-15 fiscal year.

But after a court hearing last week, it became clear that no action on privatization will be taken before the fiscal year ends, and it may be well into the next fiscal year that the issue is settled if the village continues to press for privatization.

"The union has decided to drag things out as long as possible," said Cary Horvath, one of the two attorneys representing the village at the March 13 hearing in front of Judge Diane Larsen at the Richard J. Daley Center in Chicago.

To date, the village has spent about $77,000 in legal fees related to the lawsuit, according to Village Administrator Guy Belmonte in response to a Freedom of Information request from the Landmark.

The next hearing will be on April 17, just two weeks prior to the end of the 2014-15 fiscal year. If all goes as planned, Larsen would then set a schedule for both sides to lay out arguments related to the village's motion for summary determination.

Horvath, who is employed by the village's law firm Odelson and Sterk, said the soonest Larsen might get back to the village's motion for summary determination could be June.

The village in September 2014 filed suit to have a judge declare that it had the right to unilaterally terminate its contract with the union, since the two sides had reached an impasse in negotiating a new deal. 

And in October 2014, the village sent a 60-day termination notice to firefighters, but promised to delay action until a judge ruled on the question of whether the village had the right to declare the contract null and void.

The union rejected that argument and filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the village with the Illinois Labor Relations Board. The union argues that its contract remains in place until a new deal can be reached and that the village had bargained in bad faith.

While the village claimed it was asking for a narrow ruling with respect to contract law, the union asked Larsen to allow it to compile evidence proving the village had no intention of negotiating a new deal.

Late last year, the judge sided with the union, which has now taken depositions from both Hermanek and North Riverside Finance Director Sue Scarpiniti. The union will also take a deposition from Fire Chief Brian Basek prior to the April 17 hearing.

In the meantime, the village is still waiting on a ruling from the Illinois Court of Appeals related to Larsen's decision to delay a ruling on its motion for summary determination.

Additionally, both sides will appear before the Illinois Labor Relations Board on April 14 and 15 in connection with the union's unfair labor practice complaint.

North Riverside Firefighters Union Local 2714 has fought the village's attempt to privatize the department since the proposal was announced last summer. Initially, the village proposed allowing all firefighters to keep their jobs and become employees of Paramedic Services of Illinois (PSI), immediately ending additional pension burdens.

Later, the village proposed an 11-year contract where present firefighters would maintain their union status and would be replaced as they retired with PSI employees. 

The union has rejected all of the village solutions. Instead, they've proposed training all union firefighters as paramedics and eliminating PSI, which provides the village's paramedic service. The village has rejected that solution, which also included hiring additional firefighters, as too costly.

Contact:
Email: buphues@wjinc.com Twitter: @RBLandmark

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