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Arbitrator rules Algonquin Township road district needs to rehire employee

Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser supervises his crew on repaving Deerpath Road on May 17, 2018, in Algonquin.
Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser supervises his crew on repaving Deerpath Road on May 17, 2018, in Algonquin.

A former road district employee who was fired by Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser in January has to be rehired, an arbitrator ruled earlier this month.

Dan Morrison, a former heavy equipment operator with the road district, was fired on Jan. 11 after Gasser said Morrison violated the road district’s policy banning smoking in the Algonquin Township and road district buildings or township vehicles.

In response, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 filed a grievance saying Gasser did not have just cause to terminate Morrison’s employment.

On Nov. 4, Arbitrator Dennis P. McGillan wrote that the union’s grievance is sustained, and that the reinstatement of his job with a written warning would be appropriate for Morrison.

If the road district does not give Morrison’s job back in 30 days, the arbitrator will add interest to the back pay Morrison is awarded at the “highest rate allowable under Illinois law.”

The no-smoking policy was first enacted on Feb. 28, 2018.

According to the arbitrator’s decision, a different road district employee saw Morrison smoking in a road district vehicle a number of times after the issuance of this policy, and even sent Gasser an email, dated Jan. 8, which included a picture of Morrison smoking in a road district vehicle.

Gasser talked to Morrison and other employees about maintaining a “smoke-free environment,” then saw Morrison smoking in a heavy equipment vehicle and reminded him about the no-smoking policy. After that, he saw Morrison smoking in a Ford-F-350 in spring 2018.

Gasser fired Morrison on Jan. 11 in a meeting attended by Daniejela Sandberg, his administrative assistant, Morrison and his union representative, Dylan Stern.

The only other discipline Morrison had received prior to that was verbal counseling for tardiness and a written warning in March 2018 for being late to work.

The union, represented by attorney Bryan P. Diemer, argued that Morrison did not violate a clear policy banning smoking and Gasser was “lax” in his enforcement of the policy. The union also asserted that even if Morrison had broken the policy, firing was too harsh of a penalty.

The road district argued it had “just cause” to fire Morrison.

“The Employer argues that it terminated [Morrison] in January 2019 after progressive warning by the Road District Highway Commissioner because [Morrison] decided to light up again in disregard to the established policy of the Road District and the public policy and the state of Illinois,” the road district said, according to the arbitrator’s decision.

McGillan wrote in his decision that Morrison was guilty of violating the road district policy on not smoking, but firing him was not contractually appropriate given the offense.

As a result of the arbitrator’s decision, the road district has 30 days to rehire Morrison to his former position. Morrison also is entitled to all the seniority and rights he had under the collective bargaining agreement at the time of his termination, and back pay from the wages and benefits he lost because of his discharge.

“We’re happy with the decision,” Local 150 Attorney Bryan Diemer said.

Diemer said the union is in the process of calculating what back pay Morrison is owed.

“We just got the award, I got it late Friday afternoon,” Diemer said. “We’re still absorbing everything.”

The next step in the process is to resolve the back pay issue, and Morrison’s return to the road district.

Diemer said he has not been in communication with Gasser or the road district about when Morrison would be rehired.

Gasser’s lawyer, Robert Hanlon, declined to comment.

“I did my talking in court,” he said.

Attempts to reach Gasser on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Morrison, through an email with Diemer, said he had no further comment other than to say he is happy with the decision and is looking forward to getting back to work with the road district.

Ed Maher, communications director for the operating engineers Local 150, said being fired in the way that Morrison was would be an emergency in anyone’s life, adding that it should never have taken this much to get to this point.

“We’ve repeatedly attempted to reach a resolution on these without dragging it through arbitration and lawsuits,” Maher said. “It’s a disservice to the taxpayer.”

Gasser has a history of labor disputes with Local 150 – after he was first sworn in as highway commissioner, he fired Derek Lee and Andrew Rosencrans, two sons-in-law of his predecessor Robert Miller. He also fired former McHenry County Board member Nick Chirikos. In October 2018, Gasser fired employee Ryan Greene.

The union filed grievances in these cases, and arbitration is continuing in them. Diemer said he expects a decision in Lee’s case very soon, and Greene’s in the next 30 days or so.

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