The Illinois Appellate Court has upheld a Cook County Circuit Court’s decision ruling that three Oak Lawn Firefighters, who live in Indiana cannot be forced to move into Illinois or lose their jobs.
It is one of many contentious battles between Mayor Sandra Bury’s administration and organized labor that has resulted in a loss for the village’s position. Oak Lawn was not represented by its Village Attorney in the proceedings and instead had been represented by the suburban Rosemont firm of Clark Baird Smith LLP. That law firm no longer represents the village, although the decision to replace the firm occurred before the court issued its opinion.
This particular case spans several years starting with the administration’s notice that it was proposing contract language that mandated residency. The administration exchanged final offers with the union on June 1, 2016 and at that time notified the union that it intended to include a new provision in its labor contract addressing “residency” that states:
All bargaining unit members hired before the issuance of Arbitrator Bierig’s award are required to establish residency within the State of Illinois within six months of the issuance of his decision. All bargaining unit members hired on or after the issuance of the Arbitrator bierig’s award are required to establish residency within (50) miles of Village Hall….within six months…
The union then filed in arbitration seeking an order that the village is “precluded from imposing residency requirements on bargaining unit employees hired prior to the Arbitrator’s award.”
The union had cited Illinois State Statutes that state that residency requirements cannot be made more restrictive for employees after they are already serving in the department. The union, in its filing, noted that the Village of Oak Lawn has not had a residency requirement on any of the current employees and therefore any new rule would be “more restrictive” and in violation of Illinois Law and “contrary to its authority under the Illinois Constitution.”
In the first round, the village argued before the Illinois Labor Relations Board Arbitrator who ruled that the Village of Oak Lawn could talk with the union representing its firefighters about establishing a rule requiring the village’s firefighters to live within 50 miles of Oak Lawn. At the time of the Arbitrator’s decision, several firefighters privately expressed confidence that the court would overrule the arbitrator.
In Circuit Court, before longtime Circuit Court Judge Sanjay Tailor, the village relied on the same arguments it used at the arbitration hearing. However, Tailor ruled that the village cannot require firefighters to live in Illinois because the village doesn’t require the firefighters to live in a specific area to be hired in the first place.
At the urging of Village Manager Larry Deetjen, the Mayor and Board of Trustees decided to appeal the Circuit Court’s decision to the Illinois Appellate Court. The three firefighters once again argued that the Illinois Municipal Code barred the village from instituting a residency requirement more restrictive than the one in place when any firefighters were hired. The village, however, argued that the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act mandated firefighters are subject to residency requirements.
In an unpublished order, that only applies to the litigants of the case and cannot be used in other cases as precedent, the Illinois Appellate Court has ruled in favor of the union and the named plaintiffs, Fire Captain William Roser, Engineer Timothy Radke, and Firefighter/Paramedic Todd Stanford.
Roser has served the village since April of 1992 and has lived in Munster, Indiana for 24 years in a home he owns. Radke, has served the village since May of 1993 and has lived in Munster, Indiana in a home he owns for the past 21 years. Stanford has served the village since May of 1997 and has lived in Crown Point, Indiana in a home he has owned for the past 19 years.
Under the Village of Oak Lawn’s proposal, those employees would have to sell their homes and move back into the State of Illinois or resign their positions. In some cases, the homes in Indiana may be closer in traveling time to the Village of Oak Lawn than where other firefighters in the department live.
The Illinois Appellate Court, unanimously stated that the Illinois Municipal Code does not allow a village to limit the place of residence of the firefighters unless it had previously passed a law limiting the original hiring from a certain geographical area. For example, Chicago Firefighters must live in Chicago both at the time of hiring and during all times that they remain firefighters. Oak Lawn does not have such a law and some firefighters live in the village while most do not.
The village also argued that its home rule powers supersede state statutes cited in the case, and therefore the village could ignore the Illinois Municipal Code and institute a residency requirement based on Home Rule authority. The appellate court ruled that home rule powers can’t be used to overrule the municipal code on the issue of firefighter residency.
According to multiple sources, the Oak Lawn Leaf has learned that the Oak Lawn Professional Firefighters Association Local 3405 intends to file a motion to have the decision published.