In a continuing labor dispute between the City and Firefighters Local 742, the union has accused the City and the City Manager of intimidation, discrimination and bad-faith bargaining.

At a press conference held on June 29 in front of Fireman’s Park on Simpson Street, union president Brian Scott announced the union had filed an unfair labor practice (ULP) charge with the Illinois Labor Relations Board, accusing City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz of discrimination and intimidation. He offered as evidence the recent layoff notices sent to three firefighters, an action taken by Mr. Bobkiewicz on June 16. At that point both sides had reached an impasse in the contract negotiations and the matter had been turned over to an arbitrator.

Since December of last year the union and the City have been in negotiations for a contract to succeed the one that expired in February of this year, Mr. Scott told the RoundTable. He said the City and the union were close to an agreement in April, under which the union would have a “zero-percent pay raise in 2010, increased employee contributions for health insurance and suspension of holiday pay.”

In late June, though, with the outcome in the hands of an arbitrator, both sides are taking their points to the public. Shortly after Mr. Bobkiewicz announced the layoffs, members of the firefighters union blanketed the City with flyers saying that the elimination of the three firefighter positions made the City less safe.

The main sticking points may be money or control of staffing levels in the fire department, or both. The City says it can afford to pay firefighters only the same relative amounts as it pays other union employees. Further, the City wishes to determine the staffing levels of the fire department, but the union would like to see that issue remain a subject of negotiation in successive contracts.

Money

After he sent the layoff notices in June, Mr. Bobkiewicz notified the City Council and the media of his action, saying in a prepared statement that he had eliminated three firefighters’ positions because of the uncertainty of the amount of salaries and benefits the arbitrator would award. Since that award might be more than the present budget would allow, Mr. Bobkiewicz said, eliminating the three positions would give the City some additional money to pay salaries and benefits determined by the arbitrator.

Both the police union and Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees union (AFSCME) settled their contracts with the City within budget constraints, Mr. Bobkiewicz’s statement said, and he felt the firefighters’ union should be held to the same “adjustments of salaries and benefits” as “our other employee groups.” The budget, he said, “does not have resources allocated in the fire department budget to provide Fire employees with salary and benefit adjustments greater than what has been settled with our other employee groups.”

Power

Mr. Scott said the union believes that control of staffing levels is at the core of the dispute. The union, he says, sees the layoff notices – which are not effective until the end of this month – as “an attempt to coerce and intimidate firefighters after they invoked arbitration to resolve their contract impasse with the City.” He said that at the April 7 negotiating session, Mr. Bobkiewicz was “poised to sign off on a contract settlement” that included the union’s financial concessions “and a new contract term preserving service levels as approved in the present budget. … but he balked at the last minute after he was told he would still have a duty to bargain in good faith as to proposed changes in the staffing levels effective for a successor contract.”

A statement by Mr. Bobkiewicz at the June 21 City Council meeting seemed to give support to Mr. Scott’s statement. On June 21, Mr. Bobkiewicz said that while the union was willing to make some economic concessions, they asked for “new permanent language that would require any change in minimum staffing of the department to become a mandatory subject of bargaining. The City could not agree to this fundamental change in management rights and a deal was not reached.”

Eric Palmer, director of media relations for the City, told the RoundTable on June 20 that Mr. Bobkiewicz had no further comment. Asked by what authority Mr. Bobkiewicz had issued the layoff notices, Mr. Palmer told the RoundTable that Mr. Bobkiewicz said his actions fell under the aegis of the “Powers and Duties of the City Manager” in the City Code but declined to give the specific section.

Section 1-8-3 of Chapter 8 of the City Code, “City Manager’s Duties,” states, “Subject to the provisions of civil service laws, the City Manager shall have the power to discharge any employee. (1957 Code, sec. 2-37).”

Firefighter Megan Kumarchevakul and firefighter/paramedics Brendan Collins and Chris Weglarz are the three union personnel whose positions have been eliminated.