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posted: 7/25/2012 5:30 AM

Ruling: Security union can't get arbitration, can strike

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An appellate court panel has thrown out a lawsuit filed by a union that represents court security officers in Kane County.

The officers have been working without a contract since 2008, but a judge issued a favorable ruling last fall that they were essential employees and had a right to arbitration through the Illinois Labor Relations Board.

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The appellate panel reversed that opinion, throwing out the lawsuit against the county and Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez but affirming the right to strike for the officers, who operate metal detectors, carry guns and handcuff prisoners at Kane County court locations.

"We're back to square one. The lawsuit's completely over," said Tim O'Neil, an attorney representing Policeman's Benevolent Labor Committee, which is the formal name of the court security officers union.

O'Neil said officers provide security at court locations in St. Charles and Geneva, along with branch courts in Elgin, Aurora and Carpentersville.

O'Neil said officers' pay starts off at about $25,000 a year and tops out at $34,000. He said they were offered only a $500 clothing stipend and no other benefits in past negotiations.

"They're expected to take a bullet for a judge or anybody else in the courtroom," O'Neil said, adding salaries are paid for out of court fees and not taxpayer dollars. "For whatever reason, the county doesn't want to pay them any money."

Perez said he was not surprised by the ruling that the court security officers are not in the same classification as police officers, firefighters and sheriff's deputies under state law.

These employees are prohibited from striking in the event of a labor impasse but instead have their complaints heard by an arbitrator, who may issue a ruling that both sides must follow.

"I'm going to do what I have to do to keep the courthouse safe," Perez said, adding the union might return to the county to continue negotiations. "Now the ball's in their court."

O'Neil said he plans to meet with union members soon.

"We can go back to the table and negotiate," he said. "If the county is not going to pay them, they now reserve the right to strike. They're not leaving us many choices."

Dismissed: Security officers' salaries top out at $34,000

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