Unionizing Illinois Part-Timers to Lose Jobs

Updated: 04-10-2007 04:00:52 PM

Courtesy of The Herald News

Part-time firefighters and paramedics in the New Lenox Fire Protection District got a nasty Easter surprise this weekend when the New Lenox Fire Board voted Saturday to replace its part-time workers with contract employees.

Fifty-four people, some of whom have been employed for more than 30 years, will be out of a job come June 1, going the way of former Fire Chief James Steadman, who was fired from the position in February after less than 18 months on the job.

The decision follows the part-time workers' efforts to organize a union.

"There will be unfair labor practices filed on Monday," said Tim McDonald, vice president of Service Employees International Local 73.

McDonald said once a board recognizes that its workers are organizing to be represented by a union, they cannot change wages or hours of those workers.

But Trustee Bob Fronek said the board never recognized any such thing.

Union issue disputed

"That's never been given to the board," Fronek said. "I, as a trustee, have never officially been given anything."

He said the negotiations have been rumored, but the board never recognized them.

McDonald said, however, that it was made official on Thursday.

"The bad thing is we came to a stipulation with this unit on Thursday, for all the part-timers to bargain a contract about hours of work and pay scale, everything," he said.

Workers at the New Lenox Fire protection district sought union representation after Stedman was let go.

"Their biggest fear is how they fired their chief without rhyme or reason; they figured they were next," McDonald said. "They basically just took a vote without even doing a reading or research."

Decision not hasty

But Fronek said there was a reason the board needed to make the decision they did Saturday, and it was not one that was made hastily.

"We had no choice. The part-timers weren't filling the positions, so we had to fill them with contractors," he said. "We had three not show up (Sunday)."

During every shift, four positions can be held by part-timers. Fronek said he does not believe being short for Sunday's shift had anything to do with the decision last night.

They could have signed up for the shift months ago, he said, but no one wanted to work a holiday.

As far as voting on the topic suddenly, without it being on the agenda, Fronek said that was not the case.

"Staffing has been on the agenda for the past couple months, because it's been a consistent problem," he said. "It's an ongoing problem that's been going on for so long.

"We have to look out for 35,000 (residents), and we have to do what we have to do to make sure there is coverage."

McDonald said the union would be requesting immediate relief, asking trustees to stay their decision, which will keep the part-timers employed while the two parties negotiate.

Republished with permission of The Herald News.