Elgin fire union wants judge to halt city's staffing plan until arbitrator decides

 
 
Updated 1/4/2018 6:26 PM

A judge will decide whether a city of Elgin plan to reduce staffing at two fire stations to save some $750,000 a year in overtime should go forward now or be put on hold while an arbitrator decides on the plan's merits.

Kane County Judge David Akemann heard testimony over parts of two days this week from firefighters union Local 439, which wants an injunction preventing the city from enacting its plan to reduce minimum staffing levels throughout the city's seven stations until an arbitrator rules on the matter.

 

Under the plan, overall minimum staffing would be cut from 33 firefighters and a battalion chief to 31 firefighters and a battalion chief. Fire station 1 on Summit Street and station 2 on Big Timber Road would go from six to five firefighters per shift,

The union must demonstrate to Akemann it will suffer "irreparable harm" if the city's plan to reduce overtime goes into effect.

The union argues the change will increase response times and reliance on mutual aid from other departments, and endanger the public.

Joseph Galli, firefighter and union president, testified that he and the union Vice President Edward Hanson met with City Manager Rick Kozal and city Corporation Counsel William Cogley on Nov. 17 to present the union's ideas to save money through other means. Galli said Kozal didn't want the union's input.

City officials maintain they are shifting resources as calls for paramedics are on the rise. City officials say the plan doesn't require layoffs and the union's motive is to preserve overtime.

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Galli called that characterization "very offensive" and noted some firefighters are so taxed, the city had to resort to mandatory overtime in 2017 because not enough people opted for voluntary overtime.

"If they took away all of the overtime by hiring enough firefighters, every firefighter in Local 439 would be pleased with that result," Galli testified.

Robert Smith Jr., a lawyer for the city, argued the union has not proven any irreparable harm would result, so the city should be allowed to execute its plan now and an arbitrator can look at the situation later.

"There is no evidence a single injury was caused by a change in staffing by the city," Smith said, adding the union's argument that firefighters are at risk during overtime makes no sense because the city's plan will eliminate overtime.

City lawyers want Akemann to dismiss the case due to insufficient evidence from the union.

Akemann took the matter under advisement Thursday. If he allows the case to move forward, testimony will resume Jan. 11. If the union's lawsuit is dismissed, the city will enact its plan and the matter will still go to binding arbitration later in 2018.

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