Appeals Court Douses Oak Lawn’s Attempt To Require Its Firefighters Live In Illinois

A Chicago appeals panel has affirmed a Cook County judge’s ruling that southwest suburban Oak Lawn cannot require village firefighters to live in Illinois, because the village doesn’t require fire department applicants to live in any geographic area to be hired in the first place.

The unpublished order, issued June 27, was penned by Justice James Fitzgerald Smith, with concurrence from Justices Terrence Lavin and Cynthia Cobbs, of Illinois First District Appellate Court. The ruling favored the firefighters’ union, Oak Lawn Professional Firefighters Association Local 3405, in its contract dispute concerning firefighter residency with the village of Oak Lawn.

The ruling was filed under Supreme Court Rule 23, which means it may not be cited as precedent except in the limited circumstances allowed by Rule 23.

Local 3405 has represented Oak Lawn firefighters since 1981 and a residency requirement has never been included in collective bargaining agreements. However, in negotiations for the 2015-17 contract, the village wanted to include such requirement, with the union refusing.

The village and union took their impasse to an arbitrator, who ruled Illinois residency could be required and any firefighters living outside the state, could have to eventually move to Illinois or quit their jobs.

In the meantime, the union filed suit on behalf of three firefighters, who all live in Indiana, contending Illinois Municipal Code barred the village from instituting a residency requirement more restrictive than the one in place when any firefighters entered service. The village countered the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act mandated firefighters are subject to residency requirements.

Circuit Judge Sanjay Tailor overruled the arbitrator, saying the Municipal Code applied. The village then appealed.

The village argued the proposed residency requirement was not more restrictive than the prior requirement, because there was no requirement at all before.

Justice Fitzgerald Smith found that despite Oak Lawn’s contention it has never had a residency requirement, the village indeed has a requirement in effect that holds sway.

Fitzgerald Smith explained that according to the Municipal Code, fire department applicants can hail from anywhere, unless the municipality enacts an ordinance limiting applicants to those from a particular geographic area. Oak Lawn never enacted such an ordinance, so by default, accepting applications and hiring without regard to residency has been the residency requirement in place.

The village also pointed out it enjoys home rule powers and regardless of the statutes cited in the case, it could put in place a residency requirement on its own authority. The village acknowledged the Municipal Code restricts home rule, but not in this matter. However, appellate court found the restriction did extend to firefighter residency.

“We conclude that the legislature intended” to “deny home rule units the authority to impose residency restrictions on current employees of its fire service that are more restrictive than those in effect at the time the employee began his or her service with the municipality,” Fitzgerald Smith said.

Fitzgerald Smith went on to note the arbitrator had no right to issue a decision, because arbitration is prohibited in cases ‘involving a matter specifically provided for in the Municipal Code,” such as firefighter residency.

The firefighters have been represented by the Chicago firm of Carmell, Charone, Widmer, Moss & Barr.

Oak Lawn has been represented by the suburban Rosemont firm of Clark Baird Smith LLP.

From The Cook County Record

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