CHICAGO (CBS) — Firefighters in west suburban North Riverside have balked at the mayor’s proposal to privatize the department, saying they refuse to work for a private company rather than for the village.
WBBM Newsradio’s Veronica Carter reports the village of 6,700 people must pay $1.8 million to the pension funds for police officers and firefighters for the next fiscal year.
Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. said the village simply can’t afford it.
“The state’s not helping us. Not only are they not helping us, but they passed a law that if we don’t fund the pensions by 2016, they’re going to intercept our sales tax, and that’s most of the revenue that our village has,” he said.
North Riverside Firefighters Union Local 2714 president Rick Urbinati said the mayor’s plan to contract with a private firm to operate the fire department is a bad idea.
“It’s a private company. You never know what can happen with a private company. You never know if they could go out of business, if their contract disputes could result in discontinuation of service. You never know,” he said.
Village attorney Burt Odelson said North Riverside will run out of money for basic services in a couple years because of the pension debt.
“We can’t make our pension payments, and it’s going to get worse and worse and worse,” he said.
The village has been negotiating with the firefighters’ union, which loudly disapproves with Hermanek’s plan. Urbinati said the union won’t go along with Hermanek’s plan.
“It’s about the integrity of the fire service. It’s about the 15 people working there right now that have taken an oath to protect the citizens of North Riverside, and we will do so as sworn professional firefighters. We will not do so as an employee of a private company,” he said.
Urbinati said the union has been crunching numbers, and came up with its own plan.
“We will have another proposal that we’re negotiating on the 10th,” he said. “We will equal or better their savings through the private company they want to use.”
The union has threatened to sue to block Hermanek’s plan, which Odelson said was improper given the two sides have met only once for contract talks.
“The threat to sue comes as a bit of a surprise, and is basically an unfair labor practice during the course of negotiations,” Odelson said.
The firefighters’ contract expired at the end of April. Contract talks resume later this month.