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03/30/87 the Rockford Township v. the Illinois State Labor

March 30, 1987

THE ROCKFORD TOWNSHIP HIGHWAY DEPARTMENT, PETITIONER-APPELLANT

v.

THE ILLINOIS STATE LABOR RELATIONS BOARD ET AL., RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES



APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, SECOND DISTRICT

506 N.E.2d 390, 153 Ill. App. 3d 863, 106 Ill. Dec. 683 1987.IL.387

Petition for review of order of State Labor Relations Board.

APPELLATE Judges:

Presiding Justice Lindberg delivered the opinion of the court. Inglis and Woodward, JJ., concur.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE LINDBERG

Petitioner, Rockford Township highway department (Rockford), seeks administrative review of the State Labor Relations Board's (Board) decision holding that the discharge of six of its employees constituted an unfair labor practice in violation of the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 48, par. 1610(a)(2)). The questions presented for review are: (1) whether the Board had jurisdiction under the statute to decide the unfair labor practice claims; and (2) whether the Board's finding that six employees were discharged in violation of section 10(a)(2) of the Act is supported by the manifest weight of the evidence. We affirm.

The Rockford County highway department is a governmental unit responsible for maintaining over 200 miles of road within the boundaries of Rockford Township. Rockford Township is one of 14 townships located within Winnebago County. Shirley Scherer was elected commissioner of the department on April 2, 1985, and took office on May 6, 1985. Scherer had been employed as a secretary by Rockford since 1976. On December 7, 1984, she was discharged by commissioner Fassoni on the ground that she caused dissension among the other employees, and that she was rude on the phone. During the last years of her tenure, a group of employees whom Scherer referred to as the "goon squad," consisting of Frank Fasula, Anthony Fasula, Mark Sommers, James Ballestriere, Jerome Tankersley, and Steve Rondone, allegedly harassed her. They also allegedly received easier work assignments because of their friendship with former commissioner Fassoni.

After being discharged from her secretarial position, Scherer became a candidate for the office of commissioner of the department to replace Fassoni. During her campaign, Scherer stated that certain employees had been hired "primarily upon political friendships and not abilities," and she promised that these employees would be replaced. Furthermore, she made statements in the local press that if elected she "would clear the place out" and treat loyal workers fairly and with respect. Scherer claimed that a department crew consisting of 24 employees was "too large" as the department had traditionally functioned well with a crew of 17 or 18. Scherer's 1985 campaign was taking place against a backdrop of union representation activities dating back to 1984.

On September 11, 1984, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Unity Lodge 1553 (Machinists) filed a petition for certification of representative pursuant to section 9 of the IPLRA (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 48, par. 1609(a)(1)) (case No. S-RC-33) seeking to represent certain employees of the Rockford highway department.

On March 7, 1985, a hearing was held at the Board's Chicago office regarding this petition. At the hearing the following exchanges took place:

"HEARING OFFICER: Can it be stipulated that the Rockford Township Highway Department is a public employer within the meaning of Section 3(n) of the Illinois Public Relations Act and that the Board has jurisdiction over this matter under Section 20(b) of the Act in that there was an agreement in effect between the Rockford Township Employee's Association and the Rockford Township Highway Commission as of July 1, 1984?

COUNSEL FOR ROCKFORD: As the Employer would [ sic ] stipulate to that with the understanding that the -- that stipulation is in exchange for the stipulation or concession from the Union that the Foreman and Secretary slots at the Rockford Township Highway Department are exempt positions and not occupied by employees within the meaning of the Act.

HEARING OFFICER: Okay.

COUNSEL FOR MACHINISTS: Agreed.

HEARING OFFICER: It is also my understanding that there has been some historical bargaining between a Rockford Township Employees Association and the Rockford Township Highway Department. There was such an agreement in writing effective July 1, 1984, however, that agreement does not and did not accurately or in any way state what the Bargaining Unit consisted of; what positions, what titles. So there is nothing to show us what the historic Unit was, is that correct?

COUNSEL FOR ROCKFORD: Correct.

COUNSEL FOR MACHINISTS: Correct." (Emphasis added.)

Following the hearing, the Board Hearing Officer issued on March 22, 1985, a recommended decision and direction of election in which he stated:

"The parties stipulated, and I find, that the Rockford Township Highway Department is a public employer within the meaning of sec. 3(n) of the Act, and that the Board has jurisdiction over this matter under sec. 20(b) of the Act, in that there was a collective bargaining agreement in effect on July 1, 1984, the effective date of the Act, which covered the petitioned for unit of the Employer's employees.

The parties stipulated, and I find, that the following unit, which was in existence on the effective date of this Act, is an appropriate unit for the purposes of collective bargaining:

All highway and road maintenance employees of the Rockford Township Highway Department with the job titles of Laborer and Mechanic, but excluding the Rockford Township Highway Department Commissioner, the Foreman and the Secretary, and all confidential, managerial, and supervisory employees as defined by the Act, and all other employees of the Rockford Township Highway Department."

Rockford filed exceptions to the Hearing Officer's recommendations challenging the jurisdictional findings on the ground that the stipulations entered into by Rockford and the Machinists were restricted to only the existence of an agreement as of July 1, 1984, only, but not to the existence of a bargaining unit. Consequently, Rockford contended that the Board had to first decide whether "a stipulation to jurisdiction based on a factual predicate of a 'agreement' on July 1, 1984, gives it jurisdiction." These exceptions were subsequently withdrawn on the condition that no election would be held in the appropriate unit until May 17, 1985.

Meanwhile, on March 8, 1985, all of the Rockford workers had assembled at the end of the workday in a garage by the parking lot where they usually congregated. Frank Fasula brought out several blank Teamsters' applications for membership cards. The following employees signed cards: James Ballestiere, Michael Latino, Steve Montalbano, John Bogdonas, Jack Mandala, Steve ...


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