Thursday, December 11, 2014

New Amendment to Illinois Public Labor Relations Act Adds Manning As Subject for Interest Arbitration and Thereby Breeds Litigation

On December 4, 2014, the General Assembly passed House Bill 5485 and sent it to the Governor.  HB 5485 is an amendment to Section 14 of the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act that adds “manning” to the list of items that may be taken to interest arbitration by firefighter bargaining units.  Firefighter union representatives claim that this addition “clarifies” the law as it has always been.  But there is a mode of analysis that suggests that the amendment may not be clarifying at all, but rather may muddy the waters of collective bargaining in firefighter units.

The specific amendment deals with subsection 14(i) of the statute, which generally contains limitations on the subjects of an interest arbitration decision.  For example, it provides with respect to firefighter bargaining units that an arbitration decision cannot legally deal with such subjects as “the type of equipment (other than uniforms and fire fighter turnout gear) issued or used”; “the total number of employees employed by the department”; “mutual aid and assistance agreements to other units of government”; and “the criterion pursuant to which force, including deadly force, can be used”.  Those limitations remain in the law as amended.  The amendment simply adds language to the beginning of the paragraph that lists the limitations on the scope of a firefighter unit interest arbitration award to say that “the arbitration decision shall be limited to wages, hours, and conditions of employment (including manning….)”

As the statute read before the amendment, “manning” for firefighter units was neither included nor specifically excluded from the list of subjects that could be taken to interest arbitration, although “manning” is specifically excluded from the list of subjects that can be taken to interest arbitration in police units.  So what does the addition of the phrase “including manning” add to the interpretation of the statute (assuming, as is expected, that the Governor signs HB 5485)?

Although firefighter unions may now argue that manning is always a proper subject for interest arbitration, a close analysis of the law demonstrates that this is not true.  The sentence in which the phrase appears says that a legal arbitration decision is one that is limited to mandatory subjects of bargaining (i.e., subjects falling within the scope of “wages, hours, and conditions of employment”).
 Thus, manning is a proper subject for an arbitration decision if (and only if) its particular manifestation falls within the scope of mandatory bargaining, as was the case in Village of Oak Lawn v. Illinois Labor Relations Board, State Panel, 2011 IL App. (1st) 103417.  But if the particular manifestation is permissive in nature, as was the case in the declaratory ruling issued by the General Counsel of the Illinois Labor Relations Board in City of Danville, Case No. S-DR-15-003 (September 4, 2014), then that manifestation may not be taken to interest arbitration because it falls outside the scope of  “wages, hours, and conditions of employment”.

Thus, the inclusion of the word “manning” in a statute that otherwise preserves pre-existing limitations on the scope of an interest arbitration award adds nothing to the statute and only serves to foster unnecessary disputes.  There is nothing in the amended statute, as properly interpreted, that changes the pre-existing procedure or analysis as to whether the particular subject in question may be decided substantively by an arbitrator; i.e., it can if it is mandatory and it cannot if it is permissive.  All that the amended statute does is to give rise to a fallacious argument that the specific mention of manning as a permitted subject means that all manifestations of manning, whether station manning, or rig manning, or department manning, are proper subjects for an interest arbitration decision whether or not they otherwise would be permissive. It is likely to take litigation to resolve this new and unnecessary complication that has been introduced to collective bargaining in Illinois by the General Assembly.