CRYSTAL LAKE – The union that represents Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser’s employees gathered at the Algonquin Township Board’s monthly meeting Wednesday night to protest some of Gasser’s first actions in office.
Gasser fired the two sons-in-law of predecessor Robert Miller – Derek Lee and Andrew Rosencrans – and former McHenry County Board member Nick Chirikos immediately after taking office in May, which sparked a battle between Gasser and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150. Gasser also moved up his swearing in time to before the start of the workday.
Local 150 filed a grievance with the township after the firings occurred, spokesman Ed Maher said, and since then the union also has filed an unfair labor practice charge against Gasser and demanded arbitration.
“[The fired employees] had never worked one moment under Andrew Gasser, so he cannot possibly fulfill the just cause obligation that our contract states,” Maher said Wednesday.
About 100 Local 150 members and supporters protested outside the Algonquin Township offices on Route 14 before the meeting. The union’s signature inflatable rats and signs reading “Gasser is unfair to workers” and “Don’t play politics with people’s jobs” lined the road.
Lee was among the protesters, and said his goal was to get his job back.
“I was fired for no reason,” Lee said.
The protesters joined the meeting, and a handful spoke during public comment, including Lee and Chirikos.
After coming from his spot in the overflow meeting room, Gasser spoke to the board and audience.
“I know we have some very trying times inside the highway department, but I want to assure the public and this board that we as the Algonquin Township Highway Department team are overcoming these challenges as they present themselves to us,” Gasser said.
Gasser also noted that this was the first time in more than 50 years that the Algonquin Township highway commissioner does not come from the same family, and listed what his department has accomplished since he’s been in office.
“We overcame the challenges because of our core values that drive every employee a the Algonquin Township Highway Department,” Gasser said. “The core values are integrity first, service before self, excellence in all we do, and community always. But more importantly, it is not what we have fixed but what we are doing right.”
Gasser’s speech was met with shouts and laughs from some in the audience.
When it was time for trustee reports, Trustee David Chapman asked the board whether a bill for Gasser to attain separate legal counsel would come before them. Trustee Daniel Shea said a $20,000 retainer bill had already been brought before the board that evening.
Trustees ultimately tabled approving the bill until the next meeting, and Supervisor Charles Lutzow then made a motion to approve bills under the Road and Bridge fund – except for the retainer request for the offices of Robert T. Hanlon.
Hanlon gave $1,000 to Taxpayers for Andrew Gasser in January, according to Illinois Sunshine records.
The board then entered executive session, and remained in executive session as of press time at about 9:30 p.m.. The details on the retainer bill, and any action that may have been taken after executive session, were not immediately clear.
Miller, who lost re-election to Gasser, has called the firings “pure political payback” that will not stand up to legal scrutiny, more specifically Local 150’s contract they and their fellow employees have been under since the start of May.
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.
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 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.
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.