Cook County Record

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Firefighters union, Chicago City Hall squabble in court over promotion of 23 battalion chiefs

State Court

By D.M. Herra and Jonathan Bilyk | Dec 27, 2019

Chicago fire house
By Ejoseph504 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

A Cook County judge has refused a union's request to slap a hold on the promotion of 23 Chicago firefighters to battalion chief, after finding the union hasn't shown the city's alleged skewing of promotion test results would result in unqualified firefighters being promoted or cause "irreparable harm" to anyone.

Earlier this month, the Chicago Firefighters Union Local No. 2 filed suit against the city of Chicago, requesting a Cook County judge to issue a restraining order stopping the city from promoting the new battalion chiefs.

In the complaint, the union argued the prospective new officers did not earn their promotion through the usual methods.

According to the complaint, the promotion list is based upon three weighted criteria. Thirty-five percent of an applicant’s score is determined by a written test, 35 percent by an oral exam, and 30 percent by the applicant’s seniority. In order to be considered for promotion, an applicant must receive a score of 70 or better on the written test.

According to the complaint, the 23 firefighters up for promotion to battalion chief scored less than 70 on the written test. The test results were skewed, the union claims, because the test administrator allegedly disregarded established scoring methods.

“The test administrator’s scoring method involved rescaling the written and oral components separately,” the union said. “By rescaling the written and oral components separately, the ranking of an applicant on the promotional list was determined, in part, by the performance of another applicant.”

In addition, the complaint claims, the unorthodox scoring method caused 23 firefighters to receive scores of less than 70 even though they answered more than 70 percent of the questions correctly.

In its complaint, the union says it is fighting for the sake of the firefighters who are up for promotion. The applicants are vying for the rank of battalion chief, a position that requires the trust and respect of other firefighters, the union said. Battalion chiefs assume command at emergency incidents and supervise firefighters working in high-stress, life-or-death situations.

“If promoted off the current promotional list, the applicants will be afflicted with a stigma which cannot be remedied monetarily,” the complaint claims. “A passing score is a recognized demonstration of their competence to the employees within the [Chicago Fire Department]. Without such a passing score they are not afforded what is due them from the merit of their performance. …These members should be promoted from a promotional list which reflects they are deserving and qualified battalion chiefs.”

By scoring and ranking applicants as it did, the union claims the city violated its collective bargaining agreement. It asked the court to take immediate emergency action to stop the promotions from taking place until arbitration between the two sides is completed. The final arbitration decision is scheduled to be handed down in February.

The union is represented by George R. Robinson, general counsel for Chicago Fire Fighters Union Local 2.

In a reply filed Dec. 16, the city asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, as the union's concerns that drive the lawsuit remain a matter of pending binding arbitration.

The city further discounted any concerns over "stigma" the new battalion chiefs may suffer following their promotions.

"To the extent that there is any alleged 'stigma' associated with the promotions ...  Plaintiff (the union)  is responsible for creating said stigma and inflicting the alleged harm on its bargaining unit members through ... this lawsuit," lawyers for the city wrote.

On Dec. 16. Cook County Circuit Judge Franklin U. Vaderrama sided with the city, and denied the restraining order request.

"Notably, the Union does not dispite that the newly promoted Battalion Chiefs, however, deserve their promotions," Judge Valderrama said. "In fact, the Union acknowledges that these individuals would have scored 70 or above using the Union's own suggested methodology.

"Also notable is the fact that the Union does not provide any affidavits or any other evidence from any of the affected employees objecting to the promotion."

The case remains pending, with a new hearing scheduled for Jan. 8, 2020.

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Organizations in this Story

Chicago Fire DepartmentCircuit Court of Cook CountyCity of ChicagoCHICAGO FIRE FIGHTERS UNION LOCAL 2 PCF

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