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updated: 1/8/2014 11:16 PM

Carpentersville endorses settlement with firefighters

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Carpentersville officials approved a contract settlement with the village's full-time firefighters Wednesday -- a move that puts to rest the issues between the two parties and gives residents the protection they need without breaking the bank, officials said.

In doing so, both parties also avoided settling their disputes through an often lengthy and costly arbitration proceeding.

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"That would have been the next step had we not come to a resolution," union President Lt. Rick Nieves said.

The settlement stipulates that the village use a daily minimum of eight full-time firefighters spread among the three stations; the village previously staffed them according to daily demands. In exchange, village officials can also use as many part-time firefighters as needed.

Other highlights in the settlement include a round-the-clock lieutenant at every station, and the elimination of the village's right to remove fire engines from service when an unusual number of firefighters are absent.

In turn, the union agreed to drop the six grievances it filed against the village related to staffing and seniority issues.

"We're moving in the right direction; obviously we've got this compromise, and we think it's good for both sides," said Nieves, who could not stop smiling after the vote. "We're looking towards the future."

The settlement, meanwhile, is expected to cost the village less than $50,000 in overtime, Village Manager J. Mark Rooney said.

Wednesday's board action came nearly three months after the village and the union agreed to a three-year contract for the 32 full-time firefighters.

But several weeks later, the union complained the staffing changes would lead to slower response times that would endanger residents. Village officials, however, said the community was never in jeopardy, and the union actually was upset over the anticipated loss of overtime. The contract, they said, was meant to help curb $300,000 in overtime expenses. In the ensuing months, the full-time firefighters launched a social media campaign against the new pact, met with a pair of neighborhood groups and with Tom Roeser, an influential businessman and philanthropist.

Also in the aftermath, resident Chris Scholl, a full-time Carpentersville firefighter, started a blog that was critical of the board and of Rooney.

At the end of November, the board authorized Rooney to request a meeting with the union to resolve the impasse. The interest was in a workforce concentrated on the business at hand, rather than problems on the periphery.

"This is an example where compromise should not be a dirty word," Rooney said.

Wednesday's vote was unanimous, with trustees Paul Humpfer and Pat Schultz absent from the meeting.

Village President Ed Ritter heralds the process as a win for everyone and thanks everyone for their willingness to compromise.

"We've put some of the biggest disagreements behind us, and we're moving forward cooperatively," Ritter said.

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