CRYSTAL LAKE – Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser fired the two sons-in-law of predecessor Robert Miller immediately after taking office, sparking a battle with the union that now represents his employees.
After taking the oath of office early Monday, Gasser delivered termination notices to Derek Lee and Andrew Rosencrans, as well as Nick Chirikos, a former McHenry County Board member recently hired by Miller to replace a retiring employee, according to accounts.
An incensed Miller, who lost re-election to Gasser, called the move “pure political payback” that will not stand up to legal scrutiny, more specifically the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 contract they and their fellow employees have been under since the beginning of the month.
“It’s ridiculous, and to think how that because they are related to me that they should be gotten rid of is unconscionable,” Miller said.
Gasser apparently moved up his swearing in to before the start of the workday – township officials who were elected April 4 were scheduled to be sworn in at 7 p.m. He could not be reached for comment Monday.
Gasser, of Fox River Grove, narrowly upset Miller in the Feb. 28 township Republican primary, ending Miller’s 24-year reign as highway commissioner. Gasser, who is chairman of the township Republican Party, repeatedly accused Miller of nepotism in township hiring and made it a cornerstone of his campaign.
Lee, a foreman, had worked for the township for 19 years, and Rosencrans, a truck driver and laborer, had worked there for 11 years. They did not marry Miller’s daughters until after they started working for the township, he said.
Miller started working for the township in 1972. The office of township highway commissioner had been in the family for more than half a century – Miller’s father and his father’s father-in-law held it before him. Miller’s wife, former County Board member Anna May Miller, had worked for the township as his secretary but resigned Friday, he said.
Local 150 filed a grievance with the township immediately after the firings occurred, spokesman Ed Maher said. The Illinois Labor Relations Board on April 10 certified the union membership of the 10 employees officially under the highway commissioner, and their contract took effect May 1.
Maher called it “outrageous” that Lee, Rosencrans and Chirikos were served with termination papers upon their arrival to work about 7:30 a.m. He also called the firings indefensible under the five-year contract the employees are under.
“It’s our position that these workers did not work for one moment under Andrew Gasser – he cannot possibly meet the just-cause requirement,” Maher said.
Miller said he hired Chirikos, who first applied five years ago for a township job, to replace a retiring employee, citing his long experience in construction. Chirikos served one two-year term on the County Board as one of its few Democratic members before Gasser defeated him for the seat in 2014.
It is now up to Gasser to respond to the grievances. Should the situation remain unresolved, it can go to other avenues, such as binding arbitration, Maher said.
Gasser, a Tea Party member, was part of a slate that successfully took over leadership of the county GOP in 2014 and worked to better mobilize and encourage precinct committeemen – he served as the party vice chairman before resigning to take over the chairmanship of the township party. He was elected to the County Board in 2014 but stepped down in April to focus full time on his new job as highway commissioner.