Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Labor Board Confirms Firefighters Don’t Have the Right to Negotiate Staffing Levels

Minimum staffing has long been a hot button issue for Illinois Fire Unions and their members.  Minimum manning requires that an employer have a certain number of firefighters on a shift.  If the number falls below the agreed upon minimum, then the employer is forced to pay overtime to ensure that the minimum number of firefighters are on duty.  With vacation days, sick days and Kelly days, the task of maintaining minimum manning is a daunting one for employers.

The longstanding question regarding minimum staffing issues for firefighters has been whether or not municipalities are required to bargain over minimum staffing.  Fire Union’s have maintained since the holding in Village of Oak Law v. Illinois Labor Relations Board, State Panel, 964 N.E.2d 1132 (1st Dist. 2011) where the court found that the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act did not exclude staffing levels from interest arbitration and that minimum staffing is a mandatory subject of bargaining in all fire contracts.  Many employers have argued that the holding is specific to Oak Lawn and does not make minimum manning a mandatory subject of bargaining.  An Administrative Law Judge recently agreed with that position.

In a case involving the Village of Glenview and Glenview Professional Firefighters Local 4186, ALJ Heather Sidwell held that the Village of Oak Lawn does not make minimum staffing a mandatory subject of bargaining for firefighters, rather the issue is subject to a factual determination.  The tests for determining whether or not a particular topic is a mandatory subject of bargaining are set forth in Central City Education Association, IEA/NEA v. Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, 149 Ill.2d 496 (1992).  Applying these factors to the Glenview case, the ALJ held that minimum staffing was not a mandatory subject of bargaining.  This decision clearly strengthens an employer’s argument that minimum staffing is not a mandatory subject of bargaining for firefighters.  This battle is unlikely to end with the ALJ’s decision.  An appeal of this decision is all but certain given the IAFF’s commitment to encroaching upon managements’ right to set and maintain staffing levels.

This commitment is further illustrated by House Bill 5485 (“HB 5485”), the latest in a series of proposed legislation which would codify the bargaining requirement of staffing.  This bill required that interest arbitrators include minimum staffing in their decisions, thereby making it a mandatory subject of bargaining.  The bill stalled in the last legislation session.  However, it is probable that given the ALJ’s decision in the Glenview case discussed above, the IAFF will make efforts to revive HB 5485 in upcoming legislative sessions. Passage of this kind of legislation or a reversal in the Glenview case would drastically change the bargaining landscape for fire fighters, resulting in the loss of a very significant management right as well as an increased burden on taxpayers.