Appeal from Circuit Court of Macon County. Nos. 95MR18, 95MR88, 95MR122. Honorable John K. Greanias, Judge Presiding.
Released for Publication November 1, 1996. As Corrected January 2, 1997.
Honorable Robert W. Cook, P.j., Honorable Robert J. Steigmann, J. - Concur, Honorable James A. Knecht, J. - Concur. Presiding Justice Cook delivered the opinion of the court: Steigmann and Knecht, JJ., concur.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cook
PRESIDING JUSTICE COOK delivered the opinion of the court:
The 243 claimants in these consolidated cases applied for and were awarded unemployment benefits by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (Department). The Director of the Department affirmed the award of benefits, finding that claimants were not ineligible for unemployment benefits under section 604 of the Illinois Unemployment Insurance Act (Act), which deals with unemployment due to stoppage of work because of a labor dispute. 820 ILCS 405/604 (West 1994). On administrative review, the circuit court of Macon County reversed the Director's decision and remanded with directions. The Director appeals, arguing the circuit court erred in ordering her to determine whether claimants had undertaken interim employment in good faith. We affirm, using different reasoning than did the circuit court.
The 243 claimants were all at one time employed by plaintiff Bridgestone/Firestone. Claimants went on strike on July 12, 1994, and, as they acknowledge, thereby became ineligible for unemployment benefits under section 604 of the Act. See 820 ILCS 405/604 (West 1994). All claimants then obtained interim employment which was eventually lost. There was evidence the interim employment was, in many cases, of short duration, lasting a few days or weeks. There was also evidence that some claimants were employed by relatives, also for brief periods of time. It was stipulated that all interim employment at issue constituted "employment" as defined in section 206 of the Act (820 ILCS 405/206 (West 1994)) and that all interim employers were "employers" as defined in section 205 of the Act (820 ILCS 405/205 (West 1994)).
Relying on Dienes v. Holland, 78 Ill. 2d 8, 397 N.E.2d 1358, 34 Ill. Dec. 292 (1979), the Director found that any evidence of "bad faith" on the part of claimants in securing interim employment was irrelevant to the benefits determination and affirmed the benefits awards made by the claims adjudicator. In a memorandum judgment dated October 24, 1995, the circuit court reversed the Director's ruling and remanded each claim to the Director to determine whether the claimants' interim employment had been taken in good faith. The circuit court based its decision on Dienes but concluded the Director's interpretation of Dienes would allow the evasion of section 604 "in cases in which the interim work was intended to be short-lived and was purposefully orchestrated to restore benefits."
Section 604 of the Act is one of several disqualification provisions, which, if applicable to a claimant, make him ineligible for receipt of unemployment benefits. See 820 ILCS 405/600 through 614 (West 1994). Section 604 of the Act generally disqualifies those who are voluntarily unemployed as a result of a labor dispute:
"An individual shall be ineligible for benefits for any week with respect to which it is found that his total or partial unemployment is due to a stoppage of work which exists because of a labor dispute at the factory, establishment, or other premises at which he is or was last employed. " (Emphasis added.) 820 ILCS 405/604 (West 1994).
The term "last employed" is not defined in this section, which leaves open the question presented in this case and in Dienes: at what point does employment subsequent to a labor dispute "purge" the statutory disqualification of section 604 of the Act?
The claimants in Dienes were employees of Continental Grain Company (Continental). On September 1, 1971, the claimants went on strike. In November 1971, while still on strike and without severing their relationships with Continental, the claimants obtained employment with the Carey Grain Corporation (Carey). Each claimant worked full-time, and each believed he had found a permanent position with Carey. Between December 25, 1971, and January 8, 1972, the claimants were laid off due to a lack of work. The appellate court reversed a denial of benefits based on section 604, and the supreme court affirmed. Dienes, 78 Ill. 2d at 10, 17, 397 N.E.2d at 1358, 1362.
In Dienes, the Director of Labor argued the employees could not be considered "last employed" at Carey under section 604 of the Act because that relationship "was at best a temporary or a stop-gap measure." Dienes, 78 Ill. 2d at 12, 397 N.E.2d at 1359. The Director further urged that "last employed" be interpreted to require a claimant to sever his relationship with his previous employer prior to accepting other employment before the disqualification of section 604 of the Act was removed. The supreme court rejected these arguments and instead followed a Michigan decision which accepted interim employment as sufficient to purge a strike-related disqualification. Dienes, 78 Ill. 2d at 14, 397 N.E.2d at 1360, citing Great Lakes Steel Corp. v. Employment Security Comm'n, 6 Mich. App. 656, 665, 150 N.W.2d 547, 551 (1967). Accordingly, it was not necessary that the employee completely sever his relationship with the first employer, or that he intended in good faith to obtain permanent employment with the second employer, or that he be regularly or permanently employed with the second employer. Dienes, 78 Ill. 2d at 13, 397 N.E.2d at 1360.
After rejecting the definition of "last employed" urged by the Director, the Dienes court concluded by cautioning:
"It is appropriate to observe, however, that we are, of course, affirming the appellate court's judgment on the circumstances involved. We need not consider here whether every succeeding or 'last' employment, whatever the circumstances, will qualify a claimant for ...