Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser’s lawsuit seeking to invalidate a union contract his predecessor signed has been dismissed.
On Tuesday, Lake County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Jasica rejected the highway commissioner’s arguments and dismissed with prejudice his latest complaint – meaning Gasser won’t have another chance to refile a complaint in this case.
But the complex and expensive labor case – a battle that so far has cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees – is far from over.
The legal counsel for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 now is asking the court to begin the arbitration process to address Gasser’s termination of union employees and several grievances alleging contract violations. The highway department now has a chance to respond to the union’s motion to compel that arbitration. A hearing is set for Sept. 20.
But the next chapter of the story hinges on whether the department will appeal the decision – a move union representatives expect Gasser to pursue.
If an appellate court overturns the judgment, the union contract could be voided. If the dismissal is affirmed, the highway department could be forced to fork over back pay, contract damages and legal fees exceeding $1 million, according to union estimates.
“Those costs could well exceed $1 million,” Local 150 communications director Ed Maher said. “I don’t understand how the people in the township aren’t just rioting in the streets over this.”
Two times before Tuesday’s judgment, the judge gave Gasser a chance to refile his complaint with new arguments challenging the collective bargaining agreement. He argued that former Highway Commissioner Bob Miller could not legally bind his successor to a labor contract with Local 150.
Gasser could not be reached for comment Thursday. The Northwest Herald emailed questions to his Woodstock-based attorney, Robert Hanlon, who said, “We have no comment.”
Local 150 officials are pleased with the result, but they expect Gasser and his attorney to appeal the decision – a move that would keep the case in court and generate more legal fees.
“It’s time for the grown-ups in the room to take the keys from Mr. Gasser before he drives his truck off the cliff,” Maher said.
The odds of Gasser winning on an appeal are “unlikely,” Maher said, but if the highway commissioner ends up winning in appellate court, Local 150 would expect Gasser to negotiate a new agreement with his employees.
“We’re not going anywhere,” Maher said. “We’ll continue to represent these workers that sought out our representation.”
In May, minutes after he was sworn in, Gasser fired Miller’s two sons-in-law – Derek Lee and Andrew Rosencrans – as well as former McHenry County Board member Nick Chirikos.
The terminations sparked the labor dispute between Gasser and Local 150.
The state’s labor board alleged that the firings were unlawful and that Gasser failed to bargain in good faith after he publicly abandoned the highway department’s contract with the union.
The labor board, Local 150 and Hanlon traded numerous court documents over the months that followed. The legal acrobatics included a law judge ordering Gasser to rehire the employees and Hanlon getting that judgment overturned. That case still is pending.
Highway department legal fees attached to multiple lawsuits are on pace to push Gasser over his $150,000 legal budget. The bulk of those bills came from Hanlon. He billed the department more than $276,000 last fiscal year and already has billed more than $107,000 this year, according to billing records.