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.