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posted: 5/25/2013 8:00 AM

Appellate Court sides with Barrington Hills police officers

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The village of Barrington Hills committed unfair labor practices when it rescinded a previously announced raise for patrol officers because the group began unionizing, according to a state appeals court.

In a unanimous ruling, the First District Appellate Court of Illinois upheld the Labor Relations Board's earlier order that the village reinstitute 2 percent raises retroactive to Jan. 1, 2010, plus interest, and provide the tuition reimbursement that had been revoked for the local union chapter president.

"We believed the village committed an unfair labor practice all along," said Rick Tracy, a member of the Metropolitan Alliance of Police executive board. "We hope the village realizes that, too, and doesn't appeal (to the Illinois Supreme Court)."

According to the appellate court's 18-page order, Police Chief Michael Murphy wrote a November 2009 memo that said the 2010 village budget included 2 percent raises for all police department personnel. Patrol officer Gary Deutschle also was told his tuition benefit for law school coursework had been approved.

A few days later, the Metropolitan Alliance of Police notified former Village President Robert Abboud that the 12 patrol officers petitioned to organize a union, according to court documents. The effort was successful.

Abboud, who lost his re-election bid in April to Martin McLaughlin, and the village rescinded the raise and Deutschle's tuition shortly after.

"The timing of the village's actions point to an anti-union animus, as the village changed its normal course of conduct shortly after the petition for representation was filed," the appellate court wrote.

Abboud, who didn't return calls seeking comment, testified that the officers' organizing activities had a "marginal" impact on the decision to withhold the raise. He maintained the move wasn't retaliatory and said their wages needed to be determined through collective bargaining.

Abboud also argued the budget is not a binding document and that he wanted to cap the tax levy at a lower rate due to decreasing property values. Officials cited other economic conditions including the rising cost of road salt, higher insurance premiums, increased contributions to retirement and revenue uncertainties from the state.

The Labor Relations Board said Abboud was aware of those financial issues when he voted on Nov. 23, 2009, to approve the following year's budget, which included the officers' raises.

The labor board added some nonunion personnel got wage increases in 2010, though village officials responded that the patrol officers' compensation was toward the high end compared to other departments'.

McLaughlin, whose campaign focused on reducing legal expenses, said the village is evaluating its options and hasn't yet decided whether it will abide by the order or continue to fight it. He said a special meeting Wednesday should provide more clarity on the village's next move.

"(The court order is) not favorable to what Barrington Hills has been arguing by the previous board and president," McLaughlin said. "The new board and president are evaluating options."

Village Administrator Robert Kosin couldn't provide figures Friday on the total cost of the raises and the cost of related legal expenses spent fighting them. He said the numbers will be available next week.

In considering the village's next move, McLaughlin said the village board also needs to weigh financial ramifications related to collective bargaining with the union. He said the village is contesting an arbitration decision and is on the hook for both sides' legal fees, as well as interest related to the wage increase that could total between 7 and 12 percent.

"I'm told contesting an arbiter's decision doesn't happen every day," McLaughlin said. "It raises the financial risk to the village should it not be overturned."

Tracy said the village contesting the arbitration award is "practically unheard of."

McLaughlin pledged to work with the union and police officers' representatives in a "more cooperative, less contentious" manner moving forward.

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