The Evanston Firefighters Union wants to take ultimate control over department staffing levels away from the elected City Council and turn it over to an appointed arbitrator.

That’s the essense of the “maintenance of service levels” contract provision from the union that City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz rejected, leading the union to file unfair labor practice charges this week with the state labor relations board.

The service level provision would require the city to negotiate any proposed staffing cuts with the union for 60 days, and if no agreement was reached would turn the dispute over to an arbitrator who could impose a settlement which the council and city taxpayers would have to fund.

Fire Union Local President Brian Scott at a news conference this afternoon conceded that Evanston police don’t have such a provision in their contract, but he said that at least 30 other municipalities around the state have agreed to such provisions with their fire unions.

Under state law police and firefighters are barred from striking, but can submit pay and other contract disputes to binding arbitration.

Making staffing levels as well as pay subject to the arbitration process would potentially leave the city with no control over fire department costs — a situation the city already finds itself in with regard to public safety pensions, where benefit levels are set by the state legislature and city taxpayers are stuck making up any shortfall in investment returns.

Scott claimed at the news conference that Bobkiewicz said during a negotiating session on April 7 that he would agree to the service level provision, but only on the condition that it be limited to a two-year span. After that, “I want this to turn into a pumpkin,” Scott quoted Bobkiewicz as saying.

In its complaint to the labor board, the union claims that the layoff of three firefighters ordered by Bobkiewicz earlier this month after the union refused to compromise on the staffing level provision was an unfair labor practice and demands reinstatement of the three.

Resolution of the labor board complaint is expected to take a couple of months. The contract arbitration process now getting underway could take several months beyond that.

Above: Union President Brian Scott, at right, with the three firefighers scheduled to be laid off July 31 — Megan Kamarchevakul, Chris Weglarz and Brendan Collins — during this afternoon’s news conference at Fireman’s Park.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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8 Comments

  1. Pension responsibilities

    "Making staffing levels as well as pay subject to the arbitration process would potentially leave the city with no control over fire department costs — a situation the city already finds itself in with regard to public safety pensions, where benefit levels are set by the state legislature and city taxpayers are stuck making up any shortfall in investment returns."

    Just for the record–public pension shortfalls are the result of poor fiscal management on the part of the city, not through any "sweeteners" or mismanagement by pension boards.  There’s not a single firefighter or police officer who failed to make their required contribution, but the city chose to "kick the can down the road" for decades.  They chose to sign up for a "balloon mortgage" mentality to pay less now and pay more later, which is why the shortfall keeps expanding even in the face of increased contributions.
     

    Rather than using the 1987 police pension lawsuit as a wake-up call to re-evaluate how the city was handling its responsibilities, they chose to use their "win" to blithely ignore the facts that were presented and continue to shortchange their contributions.

    1. Defined Benefit Plans are expensive and mismanaged

      There are many reasons for the pension issues confronting Evanston, the state of Illinois, our country, and many countries around the world – (Greece, Spain, Japan et al)

      One major issue is that governments have used their pension funds as credit cards – borrow now, pay later (and that’s borrow now while i’m in office and pay later when i’m out of office and let some other elected official deal with the mess) P.S. Later is TODAY

      A second issue is that assumptions are incorrect – if the wage growth assumptions are for 3%, and assumed rates of return are for 8%, mortality rates are lower etc, that means the amount of money that the city and employees "have" to contribute is less. This shortfall accumulates, year after year and is subject to compound interest.

      A third reason is that benefit levels are too generous. Just look at the recent retirement of the Fire Chief. He retired at age 51 and we’re paying him almost $ 100,000 per year. We’re also paying him generous healthcare and insurance, and his $ 100,000 grows by 3% per year guaranteed, so by the time he’s 75, we’ll be paying him $200,000 per year. Allowing our public employees to retire at age 51 is extremely expensive, guaranteed COLA’s are very expensive, healthcare and insurance is very expensive – you don’t come close to these benefits in the private sector.

    2. Fire fighters’ pension shortfall

      Jason Hays –

      Just for the record – a few years ago, your Evanston Fire Fighters Association Local 742 (along with other fire unions) spent a substantial amount of time and resources lobbying the state legislature to reduce the number of years of service (from 35 to 30) that are required for you to receive your maximum retirement benefit of 75 percent of final rate of pay and increase the surviving spouse benefit to 100 percent of your pension.

      These changes caused Evanston’s unfunded pension shortfall to increase by tens of millions of dollars.

      Evanston taxpayers cannot afford your pension benefits as they exist now. Controlling future wage increases and staffing levels are the two variables the City Council has to lessen the future increase of your pension liability.

      In exchange for concessions, Local 742 wants to control their own staffing levels through collective bargaining. For the taxpayers’ sake, this simply cannot happen.

       

  2. Pension responsibilities

    Jason,

    No argument, the City fell flat on funding the pension funds, even after the law suit.

    What you ignore is the problem that the state legislature created by creating these "generous" pensions without examining the future financial risks. No doubt the union voting fidelity to the Illinois Machine inspired the reward.  Illinois is not alone, other states have similar problems with these defined benefit plans..

    The solution will not be pleasant. Staff reductions are just the start.

     

  3. Government unions – nothing but a money pit

    This story is about how the Evanston Fire Union, most of whom do not live in Evanston, wants a third party to determine the city’s fire department staffing level.

    In other words, the Evanston Fire Union disagrees with the proposed layoff of three rookie firefighters so they want to control the hiring and firing and not the city. Who’s running the city – the Evanston Fire Union or ciity officials?

    There’s all this talk about how the union pensions are underfunded. Well, they’re underfunded because they were never sustainable.

    Recently an Evanston fire chief retired at age 52 and he will get courtesy of taxpayers a $100,000 a year pension and an annual 3 percent pay increase for the rest of his life. By the time it’s over, that fire chief would have collected more than 30 percent of what he put into the pension system.

    There is a story in today’s Trib outlining  how government union employees received promotions just before retirement to sweeeten their pension pay. Combine that wth the double dipping, retirement at 55, and cashing in on unused sick pays and the pension system is rife with abuse, fraud and waste.

    The current government union pensions system MUST be reformed in order for this city and state to remain fiscally feasible. Otherwise, Illinois will fall into bankruptcy, according to many leading economists.  Borrowing billions with a billion in interest as the Democrats just did to pay for next year’s government union pension is grossly irresponsible.

    Folks, if the Democrats cede power in the House, Senate and governor’s office in November, you can bet your bottom dollar  they will raise your income and federal taxes. That’s why the unions went to Springfield to protest FOR a tax raise. That’s why the government unions always endorse the Democrats and shower them with campaign contributions.

    Not only do the government unions want to tell city officials how to run their municipalities, but they want a  tax raise.

    1. Al, get a proofreader

      Al, your anti-Democrat rants are boring .  Even worse, they are sloppily written.

       

      Exhibit A:

       

      By the time it’s over, that fire chief would have collected more than 30 percent of what he put into the pension system.

       

      So?  He gets more than 30% of what he put in?    What’s wrong with that?   Sounds like a bad deal for the Chief, but a good deal for the Pension plan.   Are you trying to say that he gets back 30 times what he put in?   Or something else?   What is this based on?  Life expectancy and past contributions?

       

      Exhibit B:

      Folks, if the Democrats cede power in the House, Senate and governor’s office in November, you can bet your bottom dollar  they will raise your income and federal taxes.

      Al, do you know what is means to ‘cede power’?  Why would they ‘cede’ power?   How could they raise taxes if they ‘cede’ power – unless they do it in the lame-duck session.?   Doesn’t this mean that we should keep the Democrats in power  – to prevent them from ceding power and raising taxes?   Enquiring minds want to know.

       

      Exhibit C:

      The current government union pensions system MUST be reformed in order for this city and state to remain fiscally feasible.

      How can a city or state be ‘fiscally feasible’?   They could be fiscally sound…fiscally challenged…fiscally solvent… but "feasible"?  A city or state is not  ‘feasible’  (unless perhaps  you are discussing the possibility of building a city or state:  is it feasible to construct a new capital like Brasilia or a Palestinian State? )

       

      When I read the Comments section of EvanstonNow, I expect sparkling wit and brilliant writing –  not poorly thought out rants. 

    2. Who should decide?

      When I read this story I was shocked that the firefighters would want an arbitrator to decide staffing, so instead of believeing everything I read I decided to find out if this was true. I called the City Manager’s office, and have still not received a return message. This seemes to be the City’s M.O. on this topic, bury their heads in the sand, hope it all goes away, and pretend that they aren’t risking public safety.

      I did however talk to some firefighters. They do not want an arbitrator to decide their fate. What they want is for somebody with knowledge of fire operations to have input in these decisions. Presumably this would be the fire chief. Interestingly, the city manager instucted the interim fire chief not to attend a city council meeting on the eve of the announcement of the layoffs. Why would the city manager tell the only expert in the fire service within city management that he is not to attend a city council meeting? All of the other department heads were there. Also during the budget hearings earlier this year the recently retired fire chief told the city manager and council that it would be unsafe to reduce the size of the department and the council agreed. Then within two weekes of that chief’s retirement the city manager made a unilateral decision to cut the department’s size without input from anyone with knowledge of fire and emergency medical services.

      While I do not want an arbitrator to decide the sizes of our city departments; I certainly do not want a city manager with aspirations of making a name for himself downsizing departments that provide essential services with no input from people who have knowledge in the fields effected.

  4. Can’t spend it if you ain’t got it

     Beware buyers of municipal bonds.  There’s only two ways out: hyper inflation and or bankruptcy.  Just like the dot com era, and the housing  bust, nothing will change until there’s no more money.  Then things get adjusted very quickly.  Of course any human being will grab as much money as they can even if it is nothing more than a scripted allusion.  The pensions may look great on paper but in the end if there’s no money to back em up, the contract is worthless.   Keep dreaming those nightly la la land dreams of guaranteed benefit pensions.  If the unions had any sense at all they would opt for 401ks.  At least that way they would know what they have.  But then again, how could the lawyers make any money arguing contracts that are mathematically unsustainable?  In the meantime, dream a little dream for me.

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