Cook County Record

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Judge: Union, Cook Circuit Clerk can't exclude federal hiring monitors from grievance proceedings

Campaigns & Elections

By Scott Holland | Aug 21, 2019

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CHICAGO — A federal judge said the Cook County Circuit Clerk can be forced to subject union grievance proceedings and other collective bargaining issues to federal oversight, to make sure politics is not improperly guiding employee disciplinary decisions.

Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier issued an opinion Aug. 15 regarding the monitoring process set forth in an August 2018 supplemental relief order for the Clerk of Court’s Office. The order ensures the office complies with the 1972 federal Shakman Decree, which bars Illinois governments, including those in Cook County, from letting politics improperly control government jobs.

The decree is named after lawyers Michael Shakman and Paul Lurie, who lodged a class action suit in 1969 against the Democratic Organization of Cook County, the city of Chicago and various officeholders in an attempt to root out political favoritism.

Michael Shakman | Miller Shakman Levine & Feldman

In this instance, the court appointed a compliance administrator to oversee employment practices at the Cook County Circuit Clerk’s office. In that role, the compliance administrator sought to attend grievance meetings for the roughly 1,100 clerk’s office employees who belong to Teamsters Local 700. The union objected to having compliance office staff present for such sessions. The union sent a letter April 14 demanding the practice stop, pending a hearing and resolution.

The order’s provisions allow the compliance administrator “to attend and to monitor grievance meetings,” Schenkier wrote. “The union does not contend otherwise and could not reasonably do so.” Rather, he continued, the union said the court lacked the authority to enshrine that permission in the order and further that such monitoring isn’t needed.

Schenkier said that suggestion appears to suggest the Shakman Decree applies only to hiring decisions, but he asserted it “specifically bars the impermissible use of political considerations in connection with decisions involving existing employees of the Clerk of Court’s Office.”

He added the order “requires the Clerk of Court’s Office to develop an employment plan that covers not just hiring, but also ‘promotion, transfer, assignment of overtime, discipline and discharge’ ” and requires the compliance administrator to monitor the officer’s performance under those guidelines. He said the order also requires the office to prove effective implementation as a demonstration of substantial compliance.

The union also argued having a third party present for grievance hearings violates its collective bargaining agreement and the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act.

“The union has pointed to nothing in the CBA or the IPLRA that bars nonparties from attending a grievance meeting,” Schenkier wrote. “Nor is the (compliance officer’s) monitoring of grievance meetings a term or condition of employment over which the Clerk of Court’s Office was required to bargain about with the union prior  to entry of the SRO.”

Compliance officers aren’t supposed to help the circuit clerk’s office, Schenkier added, just “observe the process to determine whether impermissible considerations have seeped into the process and not to weigh in on the merits of any disciplinary matter at issue in the grievance hearing.”

Schenkier further said all clerk’s office employees, whether union members or otherwise, are under protection of the relief order. If the compliance administrator recommends any changes that would fall under the CBA, the clerk’s office is still obligated to take those changes to the bargaining table. But the order is intended to protect employees’ First Amendment rights, which includes making sure political considerations aren’t improperly affecting grievance meetings.

“The monitoring process is central to the court’s ability to verify” compliance, Schenkier wrote, issuing a formal declaration the current arrangement is legal and permitted.

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Organizations in this Story

Cook County Clerk of the Circuit CourtU.S. District Court for the Northern District of IllinoisTeamsters Local 700