Appeal from the Circuit Court for the 10th Judicial Circuit, Peoria County, Illinois No.96--MR--132 No.96--MR--133 No.96--MR--136 No.96--MR--408 No.96--MR--415 No.96--MR--430 Honorable Richard Grawey Judge, Presiding
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Breslin
IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS
The fundamental issue on appeal is whether striking workers whose employment is terminated by their employer are ineligible for unemployment benefits pursuant to section 604 of the Unemployment Insurance Act (Act) (820 ILCS 405/100 et seq.(West 1995)). We find that section 604 applies to individuals on strike, but does not act to disqualify employees who are discharged for alleged misconduct while on strike. Accordingly, we affirm.
The defendants are six striking workers whose employment was terminated by Caterpillar, Inc. (Caterpillar) prior to the resolution of a labor dispute between Caterpillar and its employees for alleged misconduct on the picket line. The strike began in June, 1994. In anticipation of the strike, Caterpillar issued a pamphlet entitled "Rules of Conduct for Striking Employees" (rules). The rules disseminated to all employees set forth grounds for discharge based on certain conduct. It was because of alleged violation of these rules that Caterpillar later discharged the defendants.
Since they were involuntarily unemployed, the defendants filed claims for unemployment benefits with the Illinois Department of Employment Security (Department). Caterpillar responded, insisting that the defendants were ineligible to receive benefits under sections 602(A) and 604 of the Act. Pursuant to section 602(A), an individual is ineligible if he has been discharged for the deliberate and willful violation of reasonable company rules governing employee performance on the job. Section 604 disqualifies claimants unemployed due to a labor strike.
At the Conclusion of hearings on the matters, a Department claims adjudicator granted each defendant's request for benefits. After unsuccessfully appealing the decisions to a Department referee and the Board of Review (Board), Caterpillar filed complaints for administrative review in the circuit court and now appeals to this court claiming that: (1) the defendants are not eligible for benefits pursuant to section 604 of the Act because they were discharged while on strike; (2) the procedural route taken during administrative review was inappropriate; and (3) defendant Michael Steagall's determination of eligibility under section 602(A) of the Act was against the manifest weight of the evidence (3--97--1027).
In general, the purpose of the Act is to alleviate the economic burden of involuntary unemployment on an employee. 820 ILCS 405/100 (West 1996). Upon filing a claim for unemployment, workers are eligible for benefits once they register with the Illinois Job Service. 820 ILCS 405/500(A)(West 1996). However, the legislature has carved out several exceptions to a claimant's eligibility for benefits under the Act. Section 604 of the Act provides, in part:
"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." 820 ILCS 405/604 (West 1996).
At the outset, four of the defendants claim that Caterpillar has waived any argument regarding section 604 eligibility because the letters of appeal they received failed to raise the adjudicator's decision as to section 604 as an issue. While we acknowledge that the appeal letters did not mention a section 604 argument, we note that the issue was fully challenged and argued at every stage of the administrative proceeding. The defendants were well aware of Caterpillar's position. Thus, in the exercise of our discretion, we find the plaintiff's section 604 contentions have not been waived and are properly before this court. See Ruane v. Amore, 287 Ill. App. 3d 465, 677 N.E.2d 1369 (1997)(although not specifically mentioned in notice of appeal, record indicated that issue was raised below and was integral part of appeal; thus, it was not waived).
Turning now to the merits of the case, the two primary arguments presented by Caterpillar are the same issues it raised before the second district in Caterpillar, Inc. v. Doherty, 299 Ill. App. 3d 338, 701 N.E.2d 1163 (1998). In that case, Caterpillar appealed an identical determination by a claims adjudicator that a discharged employee who was previously on strike was eligible for unemployment benefits. The employee was discharged due to misconduct for threatening a nonstriking worker in violation of Caterpillar's rules. The court noted that the plain language of section 604 demands that an employee's unemployment be "due to a stoppage of work which exists because of a labor dispute." (Emphasis in original) Doherty, 299 Ill. App. 3d at 343, 701 N.E.2d at 1167. Applying this language to the facts of the case, it found that the defendant was not unemployed due to the labor dispute. No longer could the unemployed claimant return to Caterpillar once the dispute was resolved. Caterpillar's actions in terminating his employment ended any such expectation. Accordingly, the ...