City's Union-Busting Defies Law and Logic
There is wrong-headed. There is pig-headed. And then, there is the City of St. Charles, whose ham-fisted, mean-spirited attempts to break its promises and ignore state law at the same time, in the name of "cost containment," is liable to cost taxpayers dearly in the long run.
As of July 10, 2008 the Illinois Labor Relations Board (ILRB) officially certified Metropolitan Alliance of Police No. 28 as the bargaining unit for St. Charles police sergeants. Nearly two months later, City officials still refuse to negotiate with the union and, worse, continue to throw away taxpayer's money on legal fees, in a futile attempt to have the certification revoked.
We lay the blame for this mess on the desk of City Administrator Brian Townsend, whose capacity for self-delusion and denial in this matter rivals that of a five year old standing beside a freshly-broken lamp. "Union? What union?"
And let's not let Mayor Don DeWitte and the City Council off the hook. They may want to use Townsend as a shield, but the ultimate responsibility is clearly theirs. If they didn't know what has been going on--which we very much doubt--they certainly should have.
On June 10, of this year, Administrative Law Judge Ellen M. Strizak ruled favorably on St. Charles sergeants' request to organize a bargaining unit. This fact was duly reported by Examiner reporter Lynne Senne in a July 2 story, which in turn prompted Townsend to pen an angry letter addressed to Senne, saying, in part:
"In your rush to get the story published, you missed the fact that on June 23rd (a full 10 days before the article appeared), the City of St. Charles filed a 'Brief in Support of Exceptions of Employer, City of St. Charles, to the Decision of the Administrative Law Judge with the Illinois Labor Relations Board.'"
An interesting statement, if it were true. Unfortunately, it's not. The City did not file its appeal within the 14-day "timely" window proscribed by statute, a fact soon confirmed by the ILRB itself. As part of its July 8 meeting, the ILRB, noting that "no party filed timely exceptions", upheld Strizak's ruling. As a result, Metropolitan Alliance of Police No. 28 is now listed as the official bargaining unit for St. Charles police sergeants, with a certification date of July 10, 2008.
You would think that words like "official" and "certified" would carry some weight with a unit of government, but this does not seem to be the case for officials of the Peoples Republic of St. Charles, who apparently don't believe that state law should apply to them if it's inconvenient.
Unwilling to accept the decision, St. Charles tried to appeal yet again, only to learn that the ILRB is indeed capable of counting 14 days, a skill that seems to elude the City's attorney for the matter. The Labor Relations Board dismissed the appeal, as it should have. But the City still wasn't through flushing taxpayer's money down the toilet.
Undeterred, the City then decided to take the matter to court, apparently hoping that the ILRB's failure to include the words "cross our hearts and hope to die" in their order would move a judge to reverse the decision. At this point, in our view, the city's actions moved beyond legal niceties and labor relations, crossing into the realm of plain old harassment--hoping to wear down nine cops by beating them over the head with law books.
Even worse, Townsend set forth on a petty campaign to punish these officers. Once they filed their petition to unionize, sergeants found that their clothing allowance account had been cleaned out. Later it became apparent that "step-raises" for newer sergeants are no longer not only not automatic, they are non-existent.
Instead of doing the right thing--indeed the only thing: accepting defeat and making the best possible deal with the union, the City continues to pursue futile appeals that Perry Mason could not win and Johnny Cochrane would have been embarrassed to take on. As is usually the case when petulance overwhelms prudence, the only ones who will benefit are the attorneys.
This sorry situation could have been prevented, indeed should have been prevented, if someone in City government had the common sense to listen to sound legal advice. Too bad someone didn't attend a seminar held by the respected law firm of Seyfarth Shaw last fall, during which the firm's labor law experts advised municipalities not to fight sergeants attempting to unionize, because it has been pretty well established that they can do so in Illinois.
Oh wait. Two representatives from the City did attend. Perhaps they were taking a bathroom break and missed the "don't fight sergeants' unions--you are going to lose" message.
Perhaps, being the isolated community in the middle of nowhere without any form of communication with the outside world that St. Charles is, the fact that sergeants' unions have been formed in scores of municipalities throughout the state escaped their attention as well.
With downtown redevelopment foundering so badly that we expect to see tumbleweeds rolling down First Street any day now, it's understandable--even admirable--that the City would look to cut spending where it can. But, attempting to pretend that a duly authorized bargaining unit doesn't exist isn't going to save anyone any money in the long run.
It will rather have the opposite effect, as legal bills continue to grow and petty "punishments" inflicted on sergeants make the inevitable negotiations to come that much more adversarial.
As public policy, the City's position is short-sighted. As a matter of economics, it's just plain stupid, and it's time for the City Council to step in before Townsend makes a bigger mess of this fiasco than he already has.