Illinois Appeals Court Agrees With Union That Residency Award Invalid

An Illinois appeals court has upheld a decision that a firefighter’s union cannot be compelled to bargain over a residency requirement. The decision effectively reverses decisions by the state labor board’s general counsel and an arbitrator who granted the fire department’s request for a residency requirement.

The case involved the Oak Lawn Professional Firefighters Association IAFF Local 3405 and the Village of Oak Lawn, who were negotiating a collective bargaining agreement for 2015-2017. The Village sought to add a residency requirement, which the union opposed because state law prohibits residency requirements more restrictive than when a member enters the fire service.

According to the decision:

  • As the parties were not able to reach an agreement … they proceeded to compulsory interest arbitration.
  • At the outset of those proceedings, the Union disputed that residency requirements were an issue about which it had a duty to bargain. Its position was that the issue of whether residency requirements could be imposed on current employees who were not previously subject to them was a matter specifically provided for by section 10-2.1-6.3(c) of the Municipal Code.
  • The pertinent provision of that statute states, “Residency requirements in effect at the time an individual enters the fire service of a municipality cannot be made more restrictive for that individual during his or her period of service for that municipality, or be made a condition of promotion ***.”
  • The Village’s position was that its residency proposal was an issue about which the Union had a duty to bargain.
  • The Village’s position was that because section 14(i) lists residency requirements as one of the topics to which an interest arbitrator’s decision “shall be limited” and prohibits an arbitrator from issuing an award allowing residency outside Illinois, this section governed the issue.
  • According to the rules and regulations of the Illinois Labor Relations Board, an interest arbitrator’s award is not to consider an issue if one of the parties objects in good faith to the presence of that issue before the arbitrator on the ground that the issue does not involve a subject over which the parties are required to bargain.
  • However, an exception to that rule exists, whereby the arbitrator has the option to consider an issue to which one party objects if the general counsel of the Illinois Labor Relations Board issues a declaratory ruling that the issue is a subject over which the parties are required to bargain.
  • Thus, after the Union objected that the Village’s proposed residency requirement was not a subject over which the parties were required to bargain, the Village filed a unilateral petition to obtain a declaratory ruling from the general counsel of the Illinois Labor Relations Board about whether the Labor Relations Act required the parties to bargain over this issue.
  • The general counsel issued a declaratory ruling determining that the Village’s proposed residency requirement was a mandatory subject of bargaining.
  • The general counsel concluded the Village’s proposed residency requirement would not contravene section 10-2.1-6.3(c) of the Municipal Code. The general counsel interpreted that statute as only prohibiting a municipality from establishing residency requirements that are more restrictive than residency requirements “in effect” at the time an individual enters the fire service. It reasoned that the absence of any residency requirement “cannot reasonably be construed as an affirmative ‘requirement’ that is ‘in effect’ under the terms of the Municipal Code.”
  • Pursuant to the general counsel’s declaratory ruling that the Village’s residency requirement was a subject over which the parties were required to bargain, the issue became one that the interest arbitrator could consider despite the Union’s objection.

The arbitrator then proceeded to award the city a residency requirement that would become effective December 31, 2017, the conclusion of the collective bargaining agreement. The firefighters filed suit to have the ruling nullified. The trial court ruled in favor of the union and the village appealed to the Appellate Court of Illinois, First District, Third Division.

The court held:

  • [T]he Union did not have a duty under section 7 of the Labor Relations Act to collectively bargain over the issue of residency requirements for current employees of the Village’s fire service because it involved a matter specifically provided for in the Municipal Code.
  • [W]e hold that the interest arbitrator lacked the authority to issue an interest award that ignored the limitations imposed by section 7 of the Labor Relations Act and forced a waiver of the plaintiffs’ statutory rights to be free from residency restrictions during their period of service with the Village.
  • For this reason we further hold that the provision of the interest arbitration award providing for this is invalid as a matter of law.
  • We find no error in the trial court’s ruling reversing the arbitrator’s award imposing residency restrictions on current employees.
  • In conclusion, we affirm the trial court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs and against the Village and its issuance of the declaratory judgment.
  • We further affirm the trial court’s order reversing the arbitrator’s award concerning residency.

Here is a copy of the decision: Oak Lawn Firefighters Local 3405 v. Oak Lawn

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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