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Village of Skokie v. Labor Relations Board

June 30, 1999


Petition for Review of an Order of the Illinois State Labor Relations Board. No. S-CB-97-57

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice South

the opinion of the court:

The Village of Skokie (Village) appeals on direct review the decision of the Illinois State Labor Relations Board (Board) to dismiss the charge filed against the International Association of Firefighters, Local 3033 (Union). The charge alleged the Union engaged in unfair labor practices during the pendency of an interest arbitration within the meaning of sections 10(b)(1), 10(b)(4) and 14(m) of the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act (Act) (5 ILCS 315/10(b)(1), 10(b)(4), 14(m) (West 1998)). After an investigation, the executive director dismissed the charge finding that it failed to raise an issue of law or fact sufficient to warrant a hearing. The issues on review are (1) whether the Board erred in finding insufficient evidence to support the Village's claim that the Union used coercion to discourage firefighters from taking the promotional exam; and (2) whether the Board erred in finding that the Union did not violate its duty to bargain by employing self-help measures.

Petitioner, the Village, and respondent, the Union, began collective bargaining negotiations to replace their expired collective- bargaining agreement in February of 1996. On May 28, 1996, during a mediation session, the parties entered into a Memorandum of Agreement, which formalized their agreement on all but two issues, those being the fire lieutenant promotions and disability pay/workers compensation. The parties entered into interest arbitration to resolve these issues.

While arbitration on these two issues was pending, the Skokie Board of Fire and Police Commissioners (commissioners) began the promotional process for promotion to the rank of lieutenant on or about January 18, 1997. The commissioners outlined the parts of the examination process as well as how the exam would be weighted. On October 8, 1996, the Union sent a letter to the commissioners expressing its concern over the new changes in the eligibility requirements for the lieutenants exam because it would exclude qualified candidates. The Union attached to this letter signatures of 79 firefighters who would not participate in the promotional exam. The signatures of the firefighters were next to their typed names in alphabetical order.

On December 4, 1996, the Union sent a letter to the commissioners demanding that they cease any promotional process until the dispute was resolved during the interest arbitration. On December 11, 1996, the Union sent a letter with a signed list of 28 firefighters who would be interested in participating in the promotional process if all members of the unit were allowed to participate.

The Union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Board against the Village on December 17, 1996, alleging that the Village's commencement of the process to establish a new fire lieutenant eligibility list violated sections 10(a)(4), 10(a)(1) and 14(l) of the Act (5 ILCS 315/10(a)(1), (a)(4), 14(l)) (West 1998)).

The Board's executive director held this charge in abeyance until the completion of interest arbitration. On January 17, 1997, no union member participated in the fire lieutenant's examination process. The village filed the instant charge as a result.

Before addressing the merits of the issue, the court must first determine the standard of review. The Village argues that this case involves a question of fact. The Board and the Union argue that this case involves a mixed question of law and fact. The appeal is a review of an order of the Board.

Judicial review of the Board's decision is limited and governed by the Administrative Review Law (735 ILCS 5/3-110; 5 ILCS 315/11(e) (West 1998)). The standard of review applicable to the agency's decision depends upon whether the question presented is one of fact or one of law.

An administrative agency's findings and Conclusions on factual questions are deemed prima facie true and correct. 735 ILCS 5/3-110 (West 1998). As such, the standard on review is a manifest weight of the evidence standard. Abrahamson v. Illinois Department of Professional Regulations, 153 Ill. 2d 76, 88, 606 N.E.2d 1111 (1992). An administrative agency's findings on questions of law is not reviewed with the same deference as questions of fact. The standard on review for legal questions is de novo. Branson v. Department of Revenue, 168 Ill. 2d 247, 254, 659 N.E.2d 961 (1995).

In this case, the issue presented cannot be designated solely as a question of fact or a question of law. The Board's determination should be considered a mixed question of fact and law. See Branson, 168 Ill. 2d at 265. The issue on review from the Board is whether the Village stated a valid claim that the Union committed an unfair labor practice. Thus, the Board's finding is part factual because the court must consider whether the facts of this case support a finding that the Union's actions were tantamount to a strike and whether the Union acted in a coercive manner. The Board's finding also involves a question of law because the use of "strike" and "coercion" under the statute requires legal interpretation. Therefore, the clearly erroneous standard of review is applicable. Belvidere v. Illinois State Labor Relations Board, 181 Ill. 2d 191, 204, 692 N.E.2d 295 (1988).

The Village alleges that the Union violated section 10(b)(1) of the Act and thus committed an unfair labor practice by submitting the October 1996 petition containing the employees' signatures next to their pre-printed names in an alphabetical format. Specifically, the Village contends this format was per se coercive because it had the tendency to highlight any employee who chose not to participate. The Union argues the Board was ...

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