Employer Not Allowed To Terminate Contract While Arbitration Pending

Under Illinois law, firefighter and police unions have the right to seek binding interest arbitration if negotiations for a new contract are not successful. When negotiations with the Village of North Riverside came to impasse, Local 2714 of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) sought interest arbitration.

The Village responded by sending a letter to all firefighters announcing its intention to terminate the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), and planned to subcontract all firefighting services to Paramedic Services of Illinois, Inc., which already provided the Village with paramedic services. When the Illinois Labor Relations Board found the Village’s conduct to be an unfair labor practice, the Illinois Court of Appeals was called upon to decide an apparent conflict between two Illinois labor statutes.

The first statute, known as Section 7 of the bargaining statute, provides: “The duty ‘to bargain collectively’ shall also mean that no party to a collective bargaining contract shall terminate or modify such contract, unless the party desiring such termination or modification:

(1) Serves a written notice upon the other party to the contract of the proposed termination or modification 60 days prior to the expiration date thereof, or in the event such contract contains no expiration date, 60 days prior to the time it is proposed to make such termination or modification;

(2) Offers to meet and confer with the other party for the purpose of negotiating a new contract or a contract containing the proposed modifications;

(3) Notifies the Board within 30 days after such notice of the existence of a dispute, provided no agreement has been reached by that time; and

(4) Continues in full force and effect, without resorting to strike or lockout, all the terms and conditions of the existing contract for a period of 60 days after such notice is given to the other party or until the expiration date of such contract, whichever occurs later.”

The second of the two statutes, known as Section 14 and titled “Security Employee, Peace Officer and Fire Fighter Disputes,” provides for mediation and interest arbitration in the event that negotiations are not successful. Section 14 gives firefighters prohibited from striking a procedure to engage in negotiation and mediation, and, if no compromise can be reached, to compel arbitration. This right, the Court held, “reserved for employees prohibited from striking, reflects an economic quid pro quo. Of particular relevance here, Section 14 states that ‘during the pendency of proceedings before the arbitration panel, existing wages, hours, and other conditions of employment shall not be changed by action of either party without the consent of the other.’”

The Court rejected the Village’s arguments that Section 7 prevailed over Section 14, finding that “Section 7 does not authorize an employer such as the Village to unilaterally terminate a CBA while interest arbitration with essential services employees is pending. First, Section 7’s termination provision does not confer a right upon an employer; rather, it imposes several duties. In addition, that provision purports to define what the duty to engage in collective bargaining ‘shall also mean,’ demonstrating that other provisions of the Act may impose additional, more stringent duties. The language of Section 7 does not support the Village’s contention that a public employer’s obligation to maintain the status quo under Section 14(l) is extinguished once a public employer properly acts under Section 7.

“Even assuming that the plain language of Section 7 could be read to grant employers an unfettered right to terminate CBAs, we would reach the same result. A general statute with inclusive language will not apply to a matter specifically addressed in a different provision of the same enactment. Because Section 14 specifically grants employees prohibited from striking the right to pursue interest arbitration, that section would control over a statute generally granting employers the right to terminate CBAs and forgo interest arbitration.

“Section 2 of the labor statute also compels this determination. It expressly states that disputes involving such employees prohibited from striking shall be submitted to impartial arbitrators, as an ‘alternate, expeditious, equitable and effective procedure’ to resolve disputes. Allowing employers to terminate a CBA and refuse to proceed to interest arbitration with firefighters would contradict the letter and spirit of the Act. No quid pro quo would be achieved and employers would hold power greatly disproportionate to that held by the firefighters.”

Village of North Riverside v. Illinois Labor Relations Board, 2017 IL App (1st) 162251 (Ill. App. 2017).