DIGGING DEEPER: New arbitration law puts cities and firefighters union at odds

ROCKFORD (WREX) – A new Illinois law has put some cities and firefighters unions at odds. Until recently, arbitrators had to sit back and let the union and local government hash it out. Now the arbitrator can make decisions regarding staffing levels at fire stations.

For years, Rockford and its firefighters union have gone back and forth on how many firefighters should be on duty every shift. It’s called manning requirements.

Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey has made it known publicly that he is not a fan of outside arbitrators being able to decide staffing levels at city fire houses.

“We’re against it,” said Morrissey. “The only potential benefit that comes from this is now a lot more Illinois cities will join us and have to deal with this issue. It couldn’t come at a worse time when we’re already dealing with pension reform.”

The city and the Rockford Firefighters Union Local 413 decreased the manning requirements last year during contract negotiations. It went from 62 to 59 Rockford firefighters required to be on duty every shift.

The mayor said it has saved taxpayers $1 million. The head of the Local 413 asks, at what cost?

Local 413 President Christopher Scrol said since the contract went into affect, there has been a 20 percent increase in firefighter injuries.

“Staffing is a safety issue for firefighters and the public,” said Scrol.

Scrol said he is not sure what the mayor is so concerned about with the arbitrator element.

“There is not a single instance in the history of the State of Illinois where a bargaining unit of firefighters has secured an increase in staffing levels through an arbitrator’s decision,” said Scrol.

The union and city are currently in contract negotiations. The Local 413 is reportedly asking to up the manning requirements to 66 firefighters per shift, while the city wants to maintain the current level.