The City of Evanston has filed unfair labor practice charges against firefighters union Local 742 arguing that the city is not obligated to negotiate with the union about staffing levels.

The city claims that the state public labor relations act recognizes that an employer “has no duty to bargain over matters of inherent managerial policy” including “standards of services, and its organizational structure.”

The union has sought to have an arbitrator decide the staffing level issue, but the city argues that an arbitrator “has absolutely no authority to rule on a proposal regarding the total number of fire personnel employed by the city.”

The city says the union’s demand would “lock the city into a standard of service and thereby force the city to maintain a certain number of firefighters per shift.”

The complaint says the city has been willing to discuss temporary limits on layoffs it has consistently rejected attempts to impose such limitations permanently through the union contract.

The city also claims that the union has engaged in an unfair labor practice by taking its case direct to the mayor and aldermen, rather than negotiating exclusively with the city’s management bargaining team.

The city earlier this year reached agreement with unions representing police and most other city workers on contracts that contain no pay hike this year and increases of roughly 2.5 percent for next year, several unpaid holidays and an increase in employee-paid health insurance premiums.

The firefighters reportedly had agreed to roughly similar terms, but in addition insisted on being able to negotiate over staffing levels.

After the city rejected that, the union took the issue to arbitration and City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz announced plans to layoff three firefighters at the end of this month.

The union late last month filed unfair labor practice charges of its own against the city, saying the layoffs amounted to an unfair labor practice.

The president of the union local, Brian Scott, called the city’ decision to file the unfair labor charges “an defensive and reactionary move” and said the city’s claims have no merit.

Scott says there are several precedents in state labor law that say staffing is a mandatory subject of bargaining.

And he said that once the talks reached an impasse and the union filed a request for arbitration on Feb. 25, union members were free to contact the aldermen directly about the issues.

Related stories

Fire union wants arbitrator to set staffing

Firefighters say city is ‘unfair’

City sends layoff notices to firefighters

Firefighters hope to reverse layoffs Monday

Related link

The city’s unfair labor practice complaint (.pdf)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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12 Comments

  1. Firefighter layoffs

    FIREFIGHTER LAYOFFS: If the city were truly looking out for the best interests of the citizens, it would not be afraid of public, open discussion of the issue. Show the people your economic justifications for the reduction of services. Prove to the citizens of Evanston that the busiest fire department on the Northshore is overstaffed. Prove that response times will not be compromised as firefighters respond to multiple, simultaneous calls across the city. Do not be fooled–elimination of 3 firefighters is the same as eliminating 1 fire company. Do you want YOUR life and property put at risk without an open discussion or vote?

    1. Firefighters union in staffing decision – no

      Again we have "anonymous", which is a type of mouse, a person without the courage to identify him or herself expecting us to value his/her comments without knowing the source. Could this person be the mayor? A fireman? A union member? A president of the union? Who can say? If there are multiple anonymous postings is it one person posting many times? As the old saying goes – consider the source.

      To the topic at hand.

      Folks, what have we learned about CEO pay? Isn’t the number one lesson that you can’t entrust decisions about employment to the employed? The number one objective of anyone with a job is to keep the job. The second objective is to get as much pay as possible for the job. That makes sense. But what is the effect when the employee is given power over decisions about employment and pay?

      CEO’s have mastered this and we see result. They have an interlocking system where CEO’s serve on the boards of other companies and scratch each other’s backs. "Compensation Committees" are a farce because there is nothing to influence them to recommend lower pay and several incentives for them to recommend higher pay. A favorite technique is to point to highly paid CEO’s elsewhere and say that level is the norm to be matched at least or exceeded if possible. This is a dream no union could ever make a reality and yet the CEO’s have no formal union! What are they up to now – 800 times the average employee pay in the same company? What a racket.

      So the last thing we want is to have a union in the postition to have a say about staffing levels, particularly for public bodies where in all other respects these bodies have given up any power to bargain effectively. The union position is already known – no cuts, every position is necessary. That is no advice at all for budgeting where compromise is necessary. Ask a fireman’s union for advice on safety? More safety will always be recommended "in the interest of the public". This is exactly like asking a CEO the value of his/her work to the company he/she heads.

      The safety issue is a godsend for a union because there is no such thing as absolute safety. It can be argued that any amount of safety is too little. Talk about intimidation! Your life and property are at risk unless you do as the union recommends.

      Get fear going…call the alderpeople and the mayor and talk about danger and public safety, cost surely is a secondary thing, isn’t it? Your life – your house is at stake! If that doesn’t work, take the CEO route and start talking about staffing and benefits in other cities and how we have to keep and attract talent. How can you lose with this one-two punch?

      But now to put the union in a position to say how much staffing is enough? This is a recipe for financial disaster, as if things aren’t bad enough already.

      Safety is relative but cost is absolute. While safety can be leveraged by fear to any level, spending cannot. When the money is not there, the services provided cannot be maintained. You can either pay for a level of service or you can’t. The body responsible for the budget, in this case the city, has absolute say on what can be afforded because that is the mandate city government receives from the taxpayers who support it – spend our money wisely, buy the level of safety our taxes allow you to and no more.

      Public safety departments are our insurance policy for crime and fire and just like an insurance policy, you can break the bank trying to guarantee no loss. Only a fool would do that. Cutting a fireman may raise response time some amount, the effect of which can be endlessly debated in technicalities that will baffle and frighten the public, but  that job cut will, with certainty, lower the cost of staffing by an exact amount in the budget. A budget doesn’t deal in probabilities but in certainties – you either can pay for things or you can’t.

       

       

      1. Savings until somebody dies

        1) Your CEO example, the CEO of this city is the city manager at this point. He seems to be the one with ultimate decision making power. He is the person telling the aldermen not to have correspondence with the unions, or their representation. He also has no knowledge of fire service. What is safe staffing? Hey why not save more money and cut the whole department sure the response will be much longer, but Skokie and Wilmette will eventually get there, right? The fire chief has said this is a poor decision, but who cares what he says right? His only job is to care about safety, not money, so he can not have the wellbeing of this city in mind.

        2) it is not fear mongering if it is the truth. I am sorry if the facts scare you but those are the facts. Increased response times result in more property damage and high risk to the city’s citizens.

        3) Cutting firefighters is not a guaranteed financial savings. What happens when due to a higher workload more firefighters get injured resulting in higher insurance/worker’s compensation claims, plus time and a half for the firefighters who have to cover the shifts of the injured individual? God forbid the financial impact of a firefighter or citizen death that results in a lawsuit against the city in which lawyers can show study after study which states the department was understaffed and the city was negligent in making further cuts.

        Regardless of your beliefs on this issue, the firefighters are a good group of people who whether they live in town or not, are more invested than many citizens. They just rebuilt a park for us, and all they ask for in return is our support. As Liz Tisdahl said in her speech last week the people of Evanston would do anything for their firefighters. These men and women put their lives on the line for us. Along with the police they deal with the situations in this town that the rest of us are just as content to ignore. They see things that I can not imagine having to deal with, and the brand new city manager has driven a wedge between this town and it’s public servants. 

        1. police employ fear in Michigan

          Check out this story from Michigan where the police are using billboards to frighten the public. It can be very effective. Remember Willie Horton?

          Mr. Mysterious, unions will use whatever tools are available to make their case. I’ve been there personally on the union side. My argument here is not about the quality of our firemen or policemen, I’m not blaming them for taking a stand that anyone would in their circumstances.

          What I am saying is that the public must take this into consideration and not be herded into more taxes. Taking a NO TAX INCREASE stand is way way past due. We are in this current jam because a line was not drawn in the past. The doctors did nothing about the disease, now the pain is here and surgery is unavoidable.

          The public in general is suffering right now and most do not have the protection of a union or the benefits of union members. There can be no more taking from the pockets of the public by politicians who have not stood and defended the public when negotiations took place. The unions and the city signed contracts and the union members are entitled to see the contract fulfilled. But if that is unaffordable, which is a clear as daylight all over the country right now, then union employees must be let go and services curtailed.

          Your #3 point could be used to defend spending thousands for a car instead of walking. If I have no car and walk, I might get hit resulting in possible death or astronomical hospital bills that will exceed the cost of the car that would have protected me with a seat belt and air bag. Do you see how anything could be defended in this way? The word for it is sophistry, defined as "making the better appear the worse and the worse the better" and has historically be used to confuse the public on all kinds of topics.

          As for Michele’s comment about best practices…if we can’t afford it, we can’t afford it.

          There are folks who live in rural areas that depend on volunteer fire departments. Those firemen are just as dedicated as ours, get paid a fraction of what ours receive, and are expected to give their all to the same degree. But the way that system works means you are lucky to see help arrive within half an hour and with limited equipment. Why? Because better fire protection cannot be afforded. They do what they can within their financial circumstances and so must we. We have been living beyond our means.

          P.S. – a great read about a rural fire department in Wisconsin is Population 485

           

          1. Firefighting is just like riding a bike

             I agree that we can not afford more taxes, but I hope you realize that the ISO rating of our fire department is going to drop due to the fact that our city has decided to drop from two trucks to one. That means everyone’s insurance rates are going up, either way we are paying more.

            Here is an idea stop buying sculptures that cost six figures to put on top of parking garages, and paying close to a million dollars to build a new bathroom at Church St. beach. That way we can put funds toward necessary services without raising taxes or causing insurance rates to go up.

            Also, I understand sophistry but surely you see that running into a burning building, making one’s way into a structural collapse, dealing with hazardous materials, and many other tasks the fire department undertakes are inherently dangerous and become more dangerous when necessary resources are taken away.

            To use your bicycle example; riding the bike requires a certain set of skills. Now take off one of the pedals  and tell me it does not become more difficult thus more dangerous and likely to cause a negative outcome.

             

  2. Safety At Risk for Evanston Residents

    The City Manager should take the advice of the Fire Commisioner on what staffing should be in place for the safety of Evanston citizens.  Evanston is the busiest fire department on the North Shore, but yet, the city manager has taken it into his own hands to decide what constitutes safety for residents.  I agree, why won’t the city talk openly about this issue?  Why did the layoffs take place behind closed doors?  Also, will the City Manager commit to replacing retirees  and firefighters on disablity?  He has stated that he will not.  That will mean even less firefighters available to protect our property and less paramedics to assist the people of Evanston.  So, fellow citizens, it’s time to contact aldermen and the mayor to insist that the city manager be up front with his plans for the EFD!  Don’t let him eliminate a fire company! 

  3. Science, research, facts

    Staffing recommendations are created by a number of different organizations.  They are based on research, not on politics or lobbying. 

    In 2006, Evanston paid an outside consulting firm to "provide a thourough and detailed evaluation of the agency [Evanston Fire], its management, assets, operations, and its service delivery."  One of the most striking items in the report is the recommendation to INCREASE staffing by 2 firefighters per shift.  It goes on to support the current configuration of station placement for optimal response times, as well as continuing the staffing of existing engine & truck companies.

    The report can be found here: http://evanstonnow.com/files/fire-evaluation-2006.pdf

    To further show that recommendations for staffing levels are research-based, and not upon job-protectionism or fear-mongering, the National Institute on Standards and Technology (NIST) recently released a study that quantifiiably proves that staffing levels directly affects the effectiveness of firefighting efforts.  See http://www.iaff.org/10News/042810FireStudy.htm for more details.

    This is not fear-mongering–it is fact.

    And, yes, I am a proud member of Evanston Firefighters Local 742, and I am also an Evanston resident.

  4. That’s all well and good, Cliff

    but I defy you to find a firefighter who is paid like a CEO.   I am guessing the City could provide statistics comparing firefighter salaries to the mean income in Evanston.

    I can tell you from personal experience that firefighters are not in this for the money.  While you are correct, there is no "ultimate" safety, there are nationally accepted standards, which Evanston does not meet even before the proposed layoffs.  Every firefighter on staff represents a piece of equipment that may be used safely in an emergency: currently, we don’t have a fully-staffed third ambulance, but a "jump" company which moves from engine to ambulance as needed. 

    While it may seem that the local is just trying to prevent layoffs, the real issue is the loss of an engine (which needs 3 firefighters to operate safely, though the national standard is 4.)  Serving all of Evanston with only 4 engines means we’re losing first responder paramedics (an engine can do the job of an ambulance, but not the other way around) and also the piece of equipment that brings water to a fire.  Just as teachers negotiate class sizes to ensure they are able to do their job, firefighters need functioning equipment to do their job safely – and for the equipment to function, it takes people.  

    While we all want to be fiscally sound, no one wants either citizens or firefighters to be put at risk.  If you look over the study that is linked on earlier articles, you will see that the staffing levels are set by a reasonable, professional, third-party standard – but if you need experience, why not ask how often all 5 engines are in use?  Think of how often severe weather has caused fires and car accidents and downed power lines and other simultaneous life safety issues in Evanston – weather doesn’t happen in just one part of the city, but all over, all at once.  

    I, too, am concerned about the budget.  I know my neighbors are losing their homes and the tax burden in Evanston is significant – but it makes no sense for us to say we are protecting those who might lose their homes by putting their health and property at risk.  

  5. City Manager is doing his job

    Mysterious Mike,

    I do not think anyone is doubting the firefighters’ and police integrity.  The city manager is just dealing with the fiscal realities.  With a $69 million pension deficit, all city workers are going to be effected.

     

     

    1. FYI – survey of cities and job cuts

      Please see this survey put out by the National League of Cities, National Association of Counties and the U.S. Conference of Mayors to see how things are being handled elsewhere.

    2. Needs before wants

      Mr. Waterloo, at issue is not whether workers will be affected – it is whether the safety of citizens, firefighters, and property will be affected.  

      Citizens should make sure to read the linked documents, and educate themselves about the effect of these cuts.

  6. Population 77,857 in 7.8 square miles

    Clif, your point would be salient, except that we are currently operating with between 6-10 firefighters LESS than best practices BEFORE the proposed cuts.  Please read the recommendations carefully, they are from an expert third-party who has no horse in this race.

    It is silly to compare a rural volunteer fire department to a department in a densely-populated urban environment.  In a rural area, any given house will burn to the ground and probably put itself out before it spreads to adjoining houses.  Valor notwithstanding, I am sure this is a consideration for rural lawmakers when they decide to save money with a volunteer department, unfortunate though it may be for the less-lucky constituent here or there.

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