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Appellate court upholds rulings against Algonquin Township Highway Department

Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser addresses the trustees in the public comment portion during an Algonquin Township meeting on June 13, 2018, in Crystal Lake.
Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser addresses the trustees in the public comment portion during an Algonquin Township meeting on June 13, 2018, in Crystal Lake.

Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser on Tuesday lost his appeal in a legal fight with the labor union that represents his employees.

Illinois 2nd District Appellate Court judges issued a ruling Tuesday upholding a Lake County judge’s decision to dismiss Gasser’s attempts at invalidating the union contract with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 signed by his predecessor.

In May 2017, Gasser made his first decision as highway commissioner and fired the two sons-in-law of predecessor Robert Miller – Derek Lee and Andrew Rosencrans – and former McHenry County Board member Nick Chirikos. The decision sparked a labor dispute between Gasser and Local 150 and prompted the union to report the firings to the labor board.

The labor board alleged in a civil lawsuit that the firings were unlawful and Gasser failed to bargain in good faith after he publicly abandoned the highway department’s contract with the union.

Gasser in turn filed counterclaims alleging that the collective bargaining agreement was not enforceable and violated the township code. Gasser’s attorney, Robert Hanlon, had argued that Miller choosing to execute the contract allowed him to make decisions well beyond the term of office the people had elected him for.

Gasser also alleged that the agreement restricted his powers as the highway commissioner, including his ability to fire employees, and that the negotiation and approval of the agreement was a violation of the Open Meetings Act.

Lake County Judge Daniel Jasica dismissed Gasser’s lawsuit in August 2018, despite Gasser’s multiple attempts to refile his complaint with new arguments challenging the collective bargaining agreement.

The attorneys who represented the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 got the court to compel arbitration to address Gasser’s termination of union employees and several grievances alleging contract violations.

Local 150’s attorneys reached out to the highway department to begin that arbitration process, but received no response.

In March, Jasica found Gasser in indirect civil contempt for willfully failing to comply with the court order. But after Gasser took steps to select arbitrators in the ongoing labor dispute, Jasica purged the contempt charge in April, making Gasser avoid jail time.

Gasser argued on appeal that Jasica was wrong to dismiss the counterclaim and erred in finding Gasser in indirect civil contempt.

The appellate court found Gasser’s allegations “undeveloped and unsupported,” however, and affirmed the circuit judge’s decision. The appellate judges also noted that Hanlon didn’t provide the higher court with the records it would have needed to review in making a determination about Gasser’s counterclaims.

Local 150 attorney Bryan Diemer said after all of the time that went into the filing of counterclaims and the reviewing of information on appeal, the two-year ordeal has been a “colossal” waste of taxpayer resources.

“In our view, it’s just a complete waste of time and money,” Diemer said.

Hanlon could not be reached for comment.

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