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updated: 4/25/2014 12:34 PM

Proposal would give firefighters say in staffing levels

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  • A bill now in the Senate would mandate collective bargaining over minimum fire department staffing levels in Illinois towns other than Chicago.

       A bill now in the Senate would mandate collective bargaining over minimum fire department staffing levels in Illinois towns other than Chicago.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer, 2011

 
By Zachary White
zwhite@dailyherald.com

Editors Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Chicago Fire department already collectively bargains for minimum manning levels.

Lawmakers could give firefighters a say in the number of employees each department needs, an idea some suburban mayors oppose.

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A proposal currently in the Senate would mandate that communities other than Chicago negotiate minimum staffing levels as part of collective bargaining with firefighters. The Chicago Fire department already collectively bargains for minimum staffing levels.

The plan got the go-ahead in the House.

On Monday, Illinois mayors argued for lawmakers to overhaul local pension systems for police and fire departments. If the new proposal is approved, it could increase local governments' pension burden.

"That could be a million dollars in benefits," Barrington Mayor Karen Darch said.

And that, opponents argue, would come on top of the more immediate costs of new fire department hires.

"We might not have enough money to staff the police department, or the public works department," Darch said.

But Pat Devaney, president of the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois, said firefighters can currently bargain over staffing levels and have won cases in circuit and appellate courts over the issue. Making that right the law in Illinois would save them money in legal fees, he said.

"At the end of the day they get to bargain over the issue," Devaney said.

Supporters say more firefighters are needed. But Hoffman Estates Mayor Bill McLeod said individual fire departments get help from neighboring towns when they need extra manpower to fight larger fires.

"If there's ever a fire in any town, you'll find a (lot) of firefighters from all our towns," McLeod said.

Still, Devaney says fire officials should bargain over staffing. "I know of no more important working condition than how many men are (on the force)," Devaney said.

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