A state appeals court has reversed itself, directing the Illinois Labor Relations Board to take yet another look at a 2013 unfair labor practice case brought by a union against the Chicago Transit Authority over its handling of the rollout of the Ventra fare payment system.

The unfair labor charge was brought against the CTA by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241 in September 2013, claiming the CTA violated its collective bargaining agreement with the union when it implemented the Ventra open fare payment system, resulting in the elimination of union jobs.

The ILRB, however, found the charge had been filed untimely, dismissed the action, prompting the union to appeal.

In March 2017, a three-justice panel of the Illinois First District Appellate Court in Chicago held that the union’s complaint was timely filed and remanded the charge back to the ILRB. The board and the CTA then petitioned for rehearing, and in its most recent decision the court reversed itself, saying it is possible the charge was untimely and remanding the charge back to the ILRB for consideration.

A bargaining unit has six months from the time it learns of actions it considers unfair labor practices to file a complaint. At issue in this case is when the six-month clock started. In its original finding, the ILRB said the countdown was triggered in 2010, when the CTA forwarded the union a copy of a request for proposals to provide an open-fare payment system. The RFP specified that the contractor who managed the open-fare system would handle payment transactions under the system – transactions which had been handled by Amalgamated Transit Union members under the old system. The union filed its complaint three years later, after the CTA specifically informed it that it was eliminating eight job classifications encompassing 24 union positions.

When Ventra came online in September 2013, the CTA informed the union it was eliminating the job classifications. Those positions were subcontracted to the Ventra provider and the CTA employees who previously held them were moved into other jobs. Though no employee lost their job in the change, the union held that the 24 employees affected did lose seniority. Some also lost pay or had to change their work location or schedule. Two weeks after the CTA told the union about the change, it filed its unfair labor practice complaint.

The ILRB found the RFP sent in 2010 served as notice to the union that union jobs may be subcontracted; because the unfair labor practice charge was filed three years later, the ILRB dismissed the charge as untimely. The union argued that the “unambiguous notice” that jobs were being eliminated did not come until the CTA announced the elimination in 2013.

Both in its initial decision and its finding after rehearing, the appellate justices stated that sending the union a copy of an RFP was not sufficient to trigger the six-month window for the union to file a charge. But in its new decision, the court also rejected the union’s stance that the window didn’t open until the subcontract was actually announced. The “unambiguous notice” required to start the clock may have come in 2011, when the CTA announced it had selected a subcontractor to manage the new system.

“Based on the arguments put forth by the CTA and the Board in their petitions for rehearing, we now recognize that the time to file the charge could have been triggered sometime after the RFP was sent in November 2010 but before the CTA informed the Union that it would be eliminating Union positions in September 2013,” the justices wrote. “We remand to the board for further consideration as to the timeliness of this charge and for consideration of the merits of this charge, if it was timely filed.”

Justice Mary L. Mikva authored the court’s opinion. Justices Maureen E. Connors and Sheldon A. Harris concurred in the ruling.

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