Recent rulings by the Illinois Labor Relations Board (“ILRB”) declaring that minimum manning is a mandatory subject of bargaining for firefighter bargaining units will have substantial impact on the collective bargaining process. Prior to these rulings, labor arbitrators ruled that minimum manning was permissive and not mandatory, and therefore, was beyond the jurisdiction of interest arbitration.
In general, minimum manning is a requirement imposed in a collective bargaining agreement addressing the obligations of the employer to staff a given shift with a pre-established minimum of employees. Such a requirement commits the employer to continue to employ sufficient members of the bargaining unit to maintain staffing levels on each shift as required by the agreement. Under the rulings in the Oak Lawn case (Oak Lawn Professional Fire Fighters and Village of Oak Lawn, Case No. S-CA-09-007 (ILRB State Panel)) and Streamwood Case (Village of Streamwood and International Association of Fire Fighters, Case No. S-DR-11-00 (ILRB General Counsel)), parties are now required to bargain over this issue and submit the matter to binding interest arbitration, if they are unable to reach an agreement.
Under the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act (5 ILCS 315), the parties are required to “bargain collectively” with respect to wages, hours and terms and conditions of employment. Section 4 of the Act specifically relieves the employer of the obligation to bargain over matters of inherent managerial policy. Section 14 of the Act provides that firefighters and paramedics are not permitted to strike, but instead do have the right to interest arbitration upon impasse. Section 14 of the Act specifically exempts from consideration by the arbitrator in an interest arbitration any dispute about the total number of employees employed by the department, but Section 14 is silent as to fire department minimum manning.
A similar Section 14 provision with regard to police arbitration authority exempts minimum manning as well as the total number of employees employed by the department. The Act specifically states minimum manning is not a mandatory subject of bargaining for police officers, but does not contain similar language for firefighters. Thus, in both the Oak Lawn and Streamwood rulings, the ILRB has read that distinction as the basis for its conclusion that minimum manning is a mandatory topic of collective bargaining for firefighters.
The economic impact of minimum manning on a fire department can be significant. If the department is operating at the minimum level established in the contract, all absences, whether due to vacation, sick or Kelly days, may have to be filled by overtime, resulting in a significant expense to the department. In the past, employers engaged in the bargaining process have been able to extract substantial benefits in bargaining for granting minimum manning. In some units, the employer has retained the right to continue with part-time employees and contract employees, or has even gained concessions with regard to economic issues. The recent ILRB rulings may serve to diminish the ability of a department to receive concessions for agreeing to minimum manning.
At this point, commentary with respect to the fairness of the recent rulings would be meaningless. Unless and until the state courts or the legislature overturn these ILRB rulings, we are obligated to include minimum manning as a mandatory subject of bargaining. Fire departments are not required to establish minimum manning in their contracts, but they must discuss it during negotiations and risk the matter being determined by an arbitrator in binding interest arbitration. If during negotiations labor is insisting for the inclusion of mandatory minimum staffing, the following points should be considered:
1. Verify that the department’s finances will permit the staffing level agreed upon in the event of a reduction in tax income. As we have learned over the past few years, we cannot assume that the EAV will increase or you will be successful in pursuing a referendum.
2. Insist that you will continue to utilize part-time or contract program employees whenever you meet the minimum number of bargaining unit employees per shift. Usually, you will be limited with regard to part-time and contract program employees, but attempt to ensure that you have sufficient manpower to provide the necessary services to the district or municipality.
3. Retain, if possible, the ability to allocate the work force between stations (for districts with more than one station) as management deems appropriate.
4. Avoid having a minimum requirement at each station.
This article is not intended to create alarm, only to raise awareness of this new ILRB decree that may impact the collective bargaining process. Many agreements have provided for minimum manning without resulting in hardship to the department. You may, however, expect that during negotiations the minimum manning issue will be raised with more frequency and be met with less compromise than in previous collective bargaining processes.