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County files complaint: Union dragging feet

McHenry County has filed a complaint with the state in an effort to move a protracted dispute with one of its unions toward arbitration and settlement.

The county on Monday filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the Illinois Labor Relations Board against the Service Employees International Union Local 73 unit, which represents county Animal Control. The complaint accuses the union of not bargaining in good faith over the first contract for 14 nonmanagerial employees. Their union was certified three years ago.

Such complaints carry little weight – the most the labor relations board can do is find the offending party guilty and order it back to the negotiating table in good faith. But before an arbitrator can settle this first contract, both sides have to finalize smaller issues, county Human Resources Director Robert Ivetic said.

“This is the mechanism that needs to be used to bring the other party toward getting this job done,” Ivetic said.

Wayne Lindwall, spokesman for SEIU Local 73, could not be reached for comment.

The county’s complaint accuses SEIU of regressive bargaining, meaning a proposal or counter-proposal allegedly was worse than a previous one, and surface bargaining, meaning a side is only going through the motions of bargaining to avoid moving the process forward.

Animal Control’s first contract is going to binding arbitration, meaning that both sides present to an arbitrator their cases on items where they differ. The arbitrator decides which side’s position is more reasonable on each point and imposes it.

An arbitrator in May settled a first contract dispute between the county and its six deputy coroners, who unionized in 2008.

One reason behind protracted negotiations with both unions was the issue of whether they had the right to binding arbitration at all. Binding arbitration is set up for government employees who are forbidden from striking, such as police officers. But a 2010 law allows it for bargaining units with fewer than 35 members who reach an impasse while negotiating their first contract. The county argued, unsuccessfully, that the law did not retroactively apply to Animal Control and the deputy coroners.

An arbitrator is expected to rule soon on a contract dispute between the county and the Fraternal Order of Police unit representing McHenry County sheriff’s deputies.

About 40 percent of the county’s 1,375 employees are represented by unions. There are nine bargaining units, with the latest being the SEIU unit representing 110 nonmanagerial staff of Valley Hi Nursing Home, excluding nurses. The state labor board certified the employees’ petition in June.

State law allows government employees to unionize without an election if a majority fill out authorization forms, a process known as card check.

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