The International Association of Firefighters Local 439 is the first Elgin union to take labor negotiations to arbitration in several years.
According to Bill Cogley, Elgin's corporation counsel, the first arbitration proceeding took place Wednesday and additional hearings are scheduled for coming weeks.
The last contract with the union expired in 2010 but both sides agreed to extend the agreement one more year. The city has been in negotiations with union representatives since the end of 2011 for the new contract. Until that is approved, the 2010 contract is still valid.
Police and fire unions are not allowed to strike, by law. If workers cannot come to an agreement with their employers through basic negotiations, a mediator is brought in to help guide discussions. When that still does not end in an agreement, the union can choose to take the negotiations to arbitration.
An independent arbitrator will take contract issues one at a time and make final decisions based on the city's finances and ability to pay. In the case of economic issues like wages and insurance contributions, a compromise is not an option -- the arbitrator will pick just one side's proposal.
Union President Vincent Rychtanek and Cogley both declined to discuss details of the negotiations Friday or what components of an agreement are causing the delay.
Rychtanek said both sides are looking for a multiyear contract.
"But everything's fluid and still in discussion," Rychtanek added.
There is no deadline on arbitration. Hearings will be scheduled based on the availability of all sides involved in negotiations.
The police union and city council members approved a contract in July for 2012 and 2013 that included a 2 percent raise this year and a 2.5 percent raise in 2013.