Illinois lawmakers erode local control

April 4, 2014 

Mention firefighter staffing levels and contract negotiations, and most people's eyes glaze over. And that's exactly what the people who are pushing to fast track HB 5485 through the state legislature are counting on.

Opponents -- and there are many, including the Illinois Municipal League -- say the bill would take away local control over how to staff fire departments and instead make it subject to collective bargaining. So if a city got into a budget squeeze, it couldn't reduce minimum staffing at firehouses without the union's agreement. An arbitrator could order a city to have a minimum number of firefighters per shift, even if the city couldn't afford it. A city would either have to raise taxes or make disproportionate cuts in other areas.

The Illinois Association of Firefighters said that this bill doesn't change the law, it simply clarifies it. But it's unlikely there would be such a hard push to get this approved if that's all the bill did.

Despite strong opposition to the bill, the House passed it this week 63-44 with six lawmakers voting present. Chair Lou Lang, subbing for Speaker Mike Madigan, ruled that the bill did not affect home rule and therefore needed only 60 votes to pass (instead of 71). Isn't that convenient?

The local House members who helped ramrod this were: Dan Beiser, Jerry Costello II, Jay Hoffman and Eddie Lee Jackson, all Democrats. Republicans Dwight Kay and Charlie Meier voted no.

We urge metro-east senators to oppose this bill. Officials elected by the people, not arbitrators, should decide how firehouses are staffed.

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