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updated: 4/29/2014 11:44 AM

Study the facts on fire department staffing law

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  • Pat Devaney

      Pat Devaney

 
By Pat Devaney

When the first statement of a newspaper's editorial is incorrect, the entire premise of the piece is wrong.

In the Daily Herald's April 25 editorial opposing the negotiation of first responder manning levels in collective bargaining, the paper stated: Why is the city of Chicago exempted from legislation that would require communities to negotiate staffing size with their firefighters unions?

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The answer is simple.

First, the legislation absolutely is intended to apply to the city of Chicago. Unfortunately, there has been some misinterpretation of that language.

Second, Chicago is already required to do what this legislation does in other Illinois communities. In fact, Chicago has been covered by these parameters for more than three decades.

The entire premise of the editorial is wrong.

Furthermore, the editorial assumes Chicago was omitted as part of a strategy to garner votes from Chicago legislators to stuff this legislation down the throats of an unsuspecting cluster of local governments.

The editorial then praises an agreement reached between firefighters and the village of Carpentersville.

The fact is, that agreement would never have been possible if the village hadn't negotiated over staffing levels and agreed to the negotiable item in the contract with its firefighters.

Thus, the entire premise of the editorial is not simply misleading, it is patently incorrect.

Moreover, the editorial ignores the purpose of this legislation.

Here are some facts, beginning with the history of firefighter collective bargaining:

The Illinois Public Labor Relations Act was changed in 1986 to prohibit firefighters from striking. Instead, the General Assembly provided binding arbitration as an alternative means to resolve disputes in collective bargaining.

The act explicitly states what issues can be taken to arbitration: wages, hours and conditions of employment (commonly referred to as working conditions).

The act also excludes specific items from being heard by an arbitrator. Manning -- or staffing -- is not listed as an excluded item for firefighters as it is for other occupations.

Thus, House Bill 5485 simply clarifies existing law. Fiscally, it will save untold legal costs in municipalities that wish to use the judicial system to rewrite state statute.

Therefore, it has an element of fiscal integrity and responsibility, not the other way around, as the editorial portends.

Minimum manning standards are the most crucial "working condition" ingredients in a firefighter collective bargaining negotiation. Rapid response is futile if there is not sufficient manpower to effectively conduct firefighting and rescue duties.

Politicians and their surrogates are trying to confuse the issue by falsely equating minimum manning requirements to the potential of local tax increases. It's not only a scare tactic; it's a distraction from the real merits of the issue.

Many collective bargaining agreements across Illinois currently include minimum manning provisions without hardship to the fire department or the local government itself. Many municipalities have been able to negotiate substantial firefighter benefit reductions at the bargaining table by agreeing to minimum manning provisions.

We agree this issue should be debated. But, please, let's get the facts straight before we form opinions. The Daily Herald's readers and our employers deserve no less.

• Pat Devaney is president of the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois, a union representing 15,000 members statewide.

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