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06/01/94 NORTH SHORE SANITARY DISTRICT v. ILLINOIS

June 1, 1994

NORTH SHORE SANITARY DISTRICT, PETITIONER,
v.
ILLINOIS STATE LABOR RELATIONS BOARD, SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION, LOCAL NO. 1-ELEVEN DIVISION, AND CLARENCE ROSS, RESPONDENTS.



Petition for Review of an Order of the Illinois State Labor Relations Board.

Released for Publication July 6, 1994.

PECCARELLI, Quetsch, Colwell

The opinion of the court was delivered by: PECCARELLI

JUSTICE PECCARELLI delivered the opinion of the court:

Petitioner, North Shore Sanitary District (District), seeks direct review of a decision and order of respondent, Illinois State Labor Relations Board (Board), finding that the District had violated sections 10(a)(1) and (a)(2) of the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act (Act) (5 ILCS 315/10(a)(1), (a)(2) (West 1992)) by discharging certain unionemployees in retaliation for protected union activities. In this court the District argues: (1) that the Board's decision that the District violated the Act is against the manifest weight of the evidence; (2) that the Board violated due process by refusing to order a hearing de novo after the substitution of hearing officers; and (3) that the Board abused its discretion in refusing to defer to those arbitration awards holding that certain of the discharges in question were with just cause.

The District provides waste water treatment in the eastern one-third of Lake County. Its facilities include sewage treatment plants in Waukegan, Gurnee, Highland Park (Clavey Road), and North Chicago; 10 pumping stations on the shores of Lake Michigan; and a landfill located just outside the northwest boundary of the District. The District is governed by a five-member board of trustees elected by the residents of the District. The District employs a general manager, who is responsible to the trustees for the overall administration of the District. The manager is assisted by an assistant general manager. The District is divided into five departments: operations, engineering services, maintenance services, administrative services, and laboratory services. Each department is supervised by a director who reports to the general manager or assistant general manager.

The employees at issue in the instant case, Frank Stefanick, Grover Finn, Frank Harscher, Floyd Traxler, Don Hansell, Willie Coleman, David Anderson, Clarence Ross, Joseph Costa, and Francisco Lopez, were members of a bargaining unit of approximately 100 employees represented by respondent, Service Employees International Union, Local # 1-Eleven Division (the Union). The employees represented by the Union work in the operations and maintenance services departments and are assigned to work at one of the four sewage treatment plants or the landfill. The Union has represented these employees since 1970.

Since 1970, the District and the Union have entered into approximately 14 collective bargaining agreements specifying wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment of unit members. In April 1987 the parties began negotiating for a new agreement. At that time employees Stefanick, Harscher, Hansell, and Ross were members of the Union's strike committee. Employees Hansell and Costa were members of the negotiating committee. Stefanick, Hansell, and Ross were also members of a public works executive organizing committee composed of union members from numerous locals, including Local # 1-Eleven.

The 1987 negotiations proved difficult. The primary disputeoccurred over wages. The Union sought a substantial wage increase, while the District sought wage concessions. The parties met six times between April and the end of June, but they made no movement from their original wage proposals. The parties proceeded to mediation, holding their first mediation meeting on July 28, 1987. Prior to the mediation meeting, Nick Belsanti, director of the Union's public works division, replaced the Union's chief negotiator, who was retiring. Unlike his predecessor, Belsanti was viewed by the District's negotiators as an aggressive and outspoken negotiator who "fired up" the Union membership during negotiations and employed measures never previously employed by the Union. He organized a strike committee and conducted meetings with unit employees to discuss strike plans and preparations.

Following the first mediation meeting, Belsanti wrote letters to the District's trustees, pointing out that the negotiations had reached an impasse and that the District's posture was "inflexible" and "overly aggressive." Belsanti requested that he be allowed to appear before the trustees at their next meeting on August 12, 1987.

The trustees denied Belsanti's request and criticized his attempt to negotiate directly with them rather than with the District's negotiating team as had been the practice since the onset of the bargaining relationship between the District and the Union. Nevertheless, on August 12 Belsanti, accompanied by other Union members including Stefanick and Ross, appeared uninvited at the trustees' meeting. Bill Byers, the District's general manager, and Gene Lukasik, the assistant general manager, also attended the meeting. Belsanti addressed the trustees, accusing the District's negotiators of stonewalling and taking an unfair position. Belsanti urged the trustees to meet with him in executive session to discuss collective bargaining matters. The trustees declined and reasserted their position that they would negotiate only through their negotiators. Belsanti reported back to the Union membership that they should continue with strike preparations.

On August 19, 1987, the District's chief negotiator wrote Belsanti a letter, accusing Belsanti of blatantly violating the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act by attempting to circumvent the District's negotiating team and deal directly with the trustees. The District's chief negotiator warned that further attempts would prompt the District to file unfair labor practice charges with the Board.

Later in the month, Belsanti again appeared at a trustees meeting accompanied by 65 or 70 employees and their families. Prior to the meeting, the employees picketed in front of the District's headquarters. Byers, Lukasik, and the District's chief negotiator were also present at this meeting.

On August 24 the parties met in mediation. The meeting ended without any agreement. The next day Belsanti sent written notice to the trustees of the Union's intent to strike. This was the first time in the history of the parties' collective bargaining relationship that the Union formally notified the District of its intent to strike. The Union set a strike deadline of September 11, 1987. On August 28, the District responded by sending a letter from its general manager, Byers, to all bargaining unit employees informing them that if a strike occurred, the District would continue to function and would not seek to have the strike enjoined. The District warned:

"There will be payless paydays -- perhaps lots of them. There will be no life, medical and dental insurance paid for you by the District. You could even be out of a job if the District permanently replaces you with a new employee!" (Emphasis in original.)

On the morning of September 11, the day the Union's strike was scheduled to begin, the Union and the District met in mediation. Also, on that date, Union employees in the unit began arriving at their respective work sites, cleaning out their lockers and gathering personal belongings in preparation for the strike. Each had brought a picket sign with him. Around 1 p.m., the parties reached an agreement in mediation, and the Union called off the planned strike. After reaching the agreement, Belsanti approached the District's negotiators to meet with them, but they turned around and walked away from him. The agreement was ratified by the Union in November 1987.

The discipline and discharges, which are the subject of the instant petition for review, occurred over a two-year period beginning almost immediately after the Conclusion of the 1987 negotiations. In 1988, the District discharged 10 unit employees, or 10% of the bargaining unit represented by the Union. In January alone, four unit employees were discharged as compared to four employees in all of 1986, none in 1987, two in 1989, and two in 1990.

All the employees terminated were open Union adherents, with the exception of two employees who were discharged along with Union adherents. Frank Stefanick was a member of the Union's strike committee and a strike captain at the District's Waukegan plant during the 1987 negotiations. Also, he accompanied Belsanti to the trustees' meeting on August 12, 1987. Frank Harscher was a member of the Union's organizing and recruitment committees, a member of the Union's strike committee, and a strike captain at the North Chicago plant during the 1987 negotiations. Floyd Traxler was a member of the Union's organizing and recruitment committees.

Dan Hansell was a member of the Union's negotiating and strikecommittees in 1987 and also was a strike captain at the Waukegan plant. Clarence Ross was a member of the Union's strike committee in 1987 and a strike captain at the District's Gurnee plant. Additionally, he had filed a safety grievance just prior to his discharge. Joseph Costa was a member of the Union's negotiating committee in 1987, and Francisco Lopez was a member of the Union's strike and recruitment committees at that time. Also, Lopez had testified in the instant case, on behalf of the Union, before his discharge. Willie Coleman had reported antiunion employees to the police for weapons violations.

Grover Finn and David Anderson were not Union activists. However, Finn was discharged along with Stefanick, and Anderson was discharged along with Coleman.

Except for Coleman, all of the Union activists discharged by the District had very long work records at the District. Stefanick had been hired in 1980, Harscher and Traxler in 1975, Hansell in 1981, Ross and Costa in 1974, and Lopez in 1979. All the men had good records. Only one of them, Stefanick, had ever previously been suspended for any reason.

In their 13 years with the District, Harscher and Traxler had received a warning letter, issued to both in October 1987 and subsequent to the threatened strike, concerning a failure to clean properly. Ross had received a warning letter dated June 1988, regarding improper attitude towards supervisory personnel and improper equipment start-up procedure. Hansell had received a warning letter, dated February 1987, regarding his failure to wear a respiratory mask as prescribed by his doctor. Coleman had received a ...


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