Petition for Review of an order of the Illinois State Labor Relations Board, No. S-VR-97-13
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Breslin
JUSTICE BRESLIN delivered the opinion of the court:
Plaintiff Metropolitan Alliance of Police (Metropolitan Alliance) appeals from a decision of the Illinois State Labor Relations Board (Board). In that decision, the Board sustained a ruling by its Executive Director (Director) that denied Metropolitan Alliance's request for voluntary recognition certification of a proposed "bargaining unit" under the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act (Act)(5 ILCS 315/1 et seq. (West 1996)). Based on the following Discussion, we affirm and hold that the Act is inapplicable to the Village of Coal City (City) because the City employs less than 35 employees. We further hold that the Act, in excluding governmental units that employ less than 35 people, is not unconstitutional.
The Act, among other things, gives state employees the right to voluntarily join a union and to bargain collectively with their employer over issues concerning wages, hours of work, and other terms of employment. 5 ILCS 315/1 et seq. (West 1996). In order to be covered under the Act, a union's bargaining unit must be certified by the Board. 5 ILCS 315/9 (West 1996).
In June of 1997, Metropolitan Alliance and the City filed a request for voluntary recognition certification with the Board. In that request, the parties stated that the proposed bargaining unit would consist of 10 police officers employed by the City. The parties stipulated that the City currently employed no more than 29 employees. The Director dismissed the request because the City did not employ 35 people-- the requisite number of employees required under the Act. Subsequently, Metropolitan Alliance appealed the dismissal to the Board, which in turn sustained the ruling of the Director. On appeal to this court, Metropolitan Alliance argues both that the Board improperly interpreted the Act and that the Act itself is unconstitutional. The constitutional question was not raised before the Board.
It is a well-settled principle of administrative law that courts must give substantial weight and deference to the interpretation placed upon a statute by the agency charged with the statute's administration and enforcement. County of Whiteside v. Property Tax Appeal Board, 276 Ill. App. 3d 182, 658 N.E.2d 481 (1995). Such deference is proper because of the agency's enhanced ability to make informed judgments based upon its unique experience and expertise. Illinois Consolidated Telephone Co. v. Illinois Commerce Comm'n, 95 Ill. 2d 142, 447 N.E.2d 295 (1983).
Section 20(b) of the Act states in part: "[t]his Act shall not be applicable to units of local government employing less than 35 employees." 5 ILCS 315/20(b) (West 1996). The Board asserts that this section functions as an absolute bar to the Act's application to governmental units that employ less than 35 employees. This explication of the Act finds further support in the decision of the Illinois Supreme Court in Village of Winfield v. Illinois State Labor Relations Board, 176 Ill.2d 54, 678 N.E.2d 1041 (1997), in which the court held that the Act does not apply to governmental units employing less than 35 employees. 176 Ill.2d at 59, 678 N.E.2d at 1043. Given this interpretation of the plain language of the Act by both the Board and the supreme court, and considering the fact that both parties have stipulated that the City employs only 29 people, we hold that the Act is inapplicable to the City.
Having held that the Act is inapplicable to the City, the only other issue presented in this case is whether the Act is unconstitutional. As a general proposition of administrative law, issues or defenses not placed before the administrative agency will not be considered for the first time on administrative review. Metz v. Illinois State Labor Relations Board, 231 Ill. App. 3d 1079, 596 N.E.2d 855 (1992). Although it is true that administrative agencies lack the authority to invalidate a statute on constitutional grounds or even to question its validity, it is "[n]onetheless *** advisable to assert a constitutional challenge on the record before the administrative tribunal." Texaco-Cities Service Pipeline Co. v. McGaw, 182 Ill. 2d 262, 278-79, 695 N.E. 2d 481, 489 (1998).
The Solicitor General argues that the holding in Texaco-Cities should prevent Metropolitan Alliance from raising a constitutional argument because such an argument was not raised until Metropolitan Alliance's brief to this court. It is unclear, however, whether the supreme court meant to adopt a bright line rule on this point or not. Nonetheless, we need not reach this issue ...