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In a continuing labor dispute, on July 23 the City of Evanston filed a charge against the Evanston Firefighters Local 742 (the “Union”) with the Illinois Labor Relations Board (ILRB), alleging that the Union has been bargaining in bad faith. 

The City’s contract with the Union expired in February. In its charge, the City alleges that it began to negotiate for a new contract in December and that it tentatively agreed to numerous proposals made by the Union. The charge alleges, however, that negotiations broke down on March 15, over the Union’s insistence that the new contract contain a provision relating to the “maintenance of service levels.” After an impasse was reached, the Union submitted the matter for arbitration. 

Under the Union’s proposal, the City would be required to maintain the “present daily staffing levels,” and the City could change the staffing levels only through negotiation with the Union; the negotiations would be based on a “desire” to maintain a staffing level sufficient to provide a 3.5 minute response time to emergency calls. If no agreement was reached between the City and the Union, the issue would be subject to arbitration. 

The City alleges that it has an inherent managerial right to set service and staffing levels. While stating that it was willing to discuss temporary limitations on its right to set service and staffing levels, it says it has consistently rejected any attempts by the Union to impose a permanent limitation on that right in the new agreement. The City alleges that it is against the Union’s self-interest to reduce staffing levels, and that “the Union is literally seeking to take over control of the department and have a veto over what level of services to provide to the community.” 

The City alleges that the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act recognizes that an employer has no duty to bargain over matters of inherent managerial policy, and that an arbitrator has no authority to rule on a proposal regarding the number of fire personnel employed by the City. The City alleges that the Union’s proposal to maintain service levels is a “permissive” rather than a “mandatory” subject of bargaining, and the Union has engaged in bad faith bargaining by insisting on the proposal. 

The City also alleges that the Union has acted in bad faith bargaining by repeatedly going around the City’s designated bargaining team to attempt to negotiate and deal directly with the City Council by sending emails and letters. 

For relief, the City asks that the Union be ordered to drop its proposal relating to maintaining service levels, and to order the Union to bargain in good faith. 

“Overall it is our position that the charges have no merit,” Union President Brian Scott told the RoundTable. “It is simply a defensive measure by the City. The timing speaks to that. If the City felt the charges have merit, they would have filed them when the events occurred.” 

Mr. Scott disputed the City’s position on negotiating staffing levels. He said the City is required to negotiate staffing levels with the Union “because it affects the safety of the firefighters and our concern is the safety of the community. …One of the primary reasons we want input on staffing levels is because staffing levels affect the safety of the community and the firefighters.” He said there was precedent supporting the Union’s position. 

This issue appears to boil down to whether the City may change the fire department’s staffing levels without negotiating with and reaching an agreement with the Union, or whether it is required to do so. 

“That’s what the overall impasse is about,” said Mr. Scott. “We have a difference of opinion about that. We’ll be happy to have an arbitrator decide that.” 

As to the City’s charge that the Union contacted members of City Council, Mr. Scott said, “We have a right to talk to elected officials. We never talked to aldermen until we were at an impasse. We were allowed to do so once we were at an impasse.” 

The Union’s Prior Charges 

On June 29, Mr. Scott announced that the Union had filed an unfair labor practice charge with ILRB, accusing the City and City Manager with intimidation, discrimination and bad-faith bargaining. Mr. Scott offered as evidence layoff notices sent to three firefighters, which become effective on 31. The Union, he said, sees the layoff notices as “an attempt to coerce and intimidate firefighters after they invoked arbitration to resolve their contract impasse with the City.” 

After he sent the layoff notices in June, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said he had eliminated three firefighter positions because of the uncertainty of the amount of salaries and benefits the arbitrator would allow. 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.

Evanston Fire Dept. Takes One Ladder Truck Out of Service Due to Layoff of Three Firefighters

Beginning Aug. 1, interim Fire Chief Greg Klaiber implemented a new response plan that uses 25 firefighters for each shift, rather that 26 firefighters each shift, said City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz in a prepared statement. The new plan was brought about by the layoff of three firefighters effective July 31. 

Under the new plan, Fire Truck 23, which is one of the Department’s two ladder trucks, will be taken out of service from Fire Station 3 (Central and Girard); the remaining ladder truck will be moved from Fire Station 2 (Custer and Madison) to Fire Station 1 (Emerson and Wesley); and a third ambulance will be staffed and stationed at Fire Station 3 (Central and Girard). Under the plan the Fire Department will continue to have a fire truck at all five fire stations. 

“The deployment of one ladder truck in the City of Evanston remains well within guidelines of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) for response within a 2 ½ mile radius of where the truck is stationed and a four minute first level response to all of Evanston,” said Mr. Bobkiewicz. 

The Evanston Firefighters Association, IAFF Local 742 said in a prepared statement that the layoffs of three firefighters will cut in half the response capability of the ladder trucks that “contain specialized rescue equipment and an aerial ladder.” 

 “A single company may sound inconsequential but their absence could actually end up resulting in a significant impact to our safety and to the safety of the people we have sworn to protect,” said Brian Scott, president of Evanston Firefighters Local 742. “By reducing manpower, the department is eliminating a truck company that is designed specifically to have the biggest impact at our toughest fires and most challenging rescues. This could have the worst possible impact on a densely populated, vertical city like Evanston.”

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...