Appeal from the Illinois Labor Relations Board State Panel. No. S-CA-01-187 Manny Hoffman, Chairman.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Bowman
The City of Loves Park (City) appeals a decision by the State Panel of the Illinois Labor Relations Board (Board) finding that the City committed an unfair labor practice by repudiating the terms of its collective bargaining agreement (Agreement) with the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 150 (Union). The City sets forth four issues for review. In our view, the City's contentions can be consolidated into the following two issues: (1) whether the arbitration clause contained in the Agreement is legal and enforceable, and (2) whether the Board erred in finding that the City committed an unfair labor practice.
The following statement of facts is taken in large part from the Board's written decision in this matter. At all relevant times, the Union was the exclusive representative of a bargaining unit of production and maintenance employees for the City's street and water department. The Union and the City entered into a collective bargaining agreement that was effective from May 1, 1996, until April 30, 2000. At issue in this case is section 8.2 of the Agreement, which provides in relevant part that, "[i]n cases of discipline or discharge, an employee who files a grievance under this Agreement shall have no recourse to the City's Civil Service Commission, and the Commission shall not have jurisdiction to review a case regarding discipline or discharge."
On January 13, 2000, the City notified Union member David Turnrose that he would be placed on suspension beginning January 17, 2000, and that the City intended to file charges with the Civil Service Commission (Commission) seeking his discharge. The Union filed a grievance on Turnrose's behalf on February 1, 2000, and informed counsel for the City that the Union objected to processing the matter through the Commission. On February 8, counsel for the City acknowledged by letter that Turnrose had waived his right to a hearing before the Commission and that the City intended for the issue of Turnrose's discharge to be heard in only one forum.
Nonetheless, the Commission conducted a hearing on February 11 on the charges against Turnrose. The Union moved to dismiss the matter because Turnrose had opted for grievance arbitration rather than a hearing before the Commission. Pursuant to an agreement with the City's legal counsel, the Union waived its right to defend Turnrose before the Commission and allowed the Commission to render its decision following a brief prove-up by the City. The City, in return, agreed that it would not raise any procedural or collateral estoppel arguments in the grievance arbitration proceedings. The Commission then discharged Turnrose on February 11. The Union filed a grievance that same day.
The arbitration hearing commenced on September 26, 2000. At the hearing, the parties stipulated that the issue was whether Turnrose was suspended and discharged for just cause. They further stipulated that the grievance was properly before the arbitrator for a final and binding decision and that the procedural requirements were either satisfied or waived. On February 27, 2001, the arbitrator issued a decision sustaining the Union's grievance, concluding that the City did not have just cause to discharge Turnrose, and ordering the City to reinstate Turnrose to his former position with full seniority, back pay, and benefits.
Following the arbitrator's decision, the City's mayor, Darryl Lindberg, asked the City's attorney to review options for appealing the arbitrator's ruling. Mayor Lindberg was concerned with the legality of the grievance arbitration provision of the Agreement. Prior to the arbitrator's ruling, the City had decided that there was no reason to look into the legality of this provision unless the arbitrator's ruling was unfavorable to the City.
The City filed a complaint for declaratory judgment in the Winnebago County circuit court on March 22, 2001, requesting the entry of orders holding that (1) the City, as a non-home-rule entity, does not have the authority to contract away the requirements of the Illinois Municipal Code (Code) (65 ILCS 5/10--1--1 et seq. (West 2000)), and (2) the arbitrator's ruling is void for lack of jurisdiction. The City refused to reinstate Turnrose and grant him back pay.
The Union then filed a charge with the Board, alleging that, by refusing to comply with the arbitrator's decision and challenging the validity of the arbitration clause in the circuit court, the City repudiated the Agreement and committed an unfair labor practice. The administrative law judge (ALJ) concluded that the City did commit an unfair labor practice in violation of sections 10(a)(1) and 10(a)(4) of the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act (5 ILCS 315/10(a)(1), (a)(4) (West 2000)). The City filed exceptions to the ALJ's recommended decision, and the Board subsequently adopted the ALJ's decision. The City filed a timely petition for review of the Board's decision.
Before reaching the merits, we must first address the proper standard of review. The City contends that our review is de novo because there are no disputed facts. The Board and the Union, on the other hand, argue that the appropriate standard is whether the Board's decision was clearly erroneous.
In City of Belvidere v. Illinois State Labor Relations Board, 181 Ill. 2d 191 (1998), our supreme court held that the applicable standard of review of an administrative agency's decision depends on whether the question presented is one of fact or law. A reviewing court will overturn an agency's findings of fact only if the agency's determinations are against the manifest weight of the evidence. City of Belvidere, 181 Ill. 2d at 204. An agency's determination of a question of law, however, is entitled to less deference and is reviewed de novo. City of Belvidere, 181 Ill. 2d at 205. The court in City of Belvidere ...