Elgin firefighters file lawsuit to stop staffing cut

  • The Elgin fire union wants to stop the city from cutting fire staffing levels until an arbitrator makes a decision. Elgin fire station 1, shown here, and station 2 would be affected, but also get a full-time ambulance.

      The Elgin fire union wants to stop the city from cutting fire staffing levels until an arbitrator makes a decision. Elgin fire station 1, shown here, and station 2 would be affected, but also get a full-time ambulance. Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 12/26/2017 4:42 PM

The Elgin fire union has filed a grievance with the city and a lawsuit in Kane County to stop Elgin from cutting staffing levels until an arbitrator makes a decision.

Elgin Association of Firefighters Local 439 says decreasing staffing from 34 to 32 firefighters per shift -- a move approved by the city council to save $700,000 in overtime costs starting in 2018 -- would cause "irreparable harm" to firefighters and pose "significant risk" to residents.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

City officials disputed that, saying the proposed cut is all about efficiency.

"The union's allegations in this lawsuit are entirely unfounded," Corporation Counsel Bill Cogley said. "This is about one thing: it's about money and protecting their overtime. This is something the city is entitled to decide, and made an entirely rational decision and considered decision."

Union President Joe Galli said the union filed the grievance Dec. 21. As per its contract, grievances first are filed with an assistant fire chief. The union then can appeal a "no" response to the fire chief, then to the city manager, and then take it to arbitration.

The union also filed a lawsuit and emergency motion for a temporary restraining order on Dec. 22 in Kane County seeking to maintain staffing levels until the issue is decided in arbitration. The city agreed Tuesday in court to wait until Jan. 3, when the matter will be heard by Judge David Akemann.

The cut would reduce on-shift staffing to 33 union firefighters and a battalion chief across seven fire stations, with no layoffs. Fire station 1 on Summit Street and station 2 on Big Timber Road would go from six to five firefighters per shift, with a change in how "jump companies" operate, Cogley said.

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Crews at those two fire stations currently "jump" between an ambulance and ladder truck, depending on the call. Under the change, two firefighters would staff an ambulance and three would jump into either a fire engine or ladder truck, Cogley said.

That would increase by two the ambulances available full-time. The fire service has changed and roughly 75 percent of calls are for ambulance services, Fire Chief Dave Schmidt said earlier this month.

Union officials claim data shows firefighters' injuries have increased since 2005, when the department switched to a high-overtime model. Cogley said verified data from the city's risk management department shows that is not true. The discrepancy is due to methodology and will be addressed moving forward, Cogley said.

The firefighters' contract ends Dec. 31. The union asked the city to engage in interest-based bargaining for the new contract, but City Manager Rick Kozal indicated the city will stick with traditional collective bargaining. Negotiations last time lasted more than two years.

"They want to go down this adversarial route that all it does is bring in the lawyers," Galli said, adding he has a good relationship with Schmidt.

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