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Labor board to hold hearings on layoffs

Saturday, April 28, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman Staff writer

The state labor board will hold hearings on the Cook County nurses union's complaint that recent layoffs didn't meet contract rules.

County officials were dismayed the Illinois Labor Relations Board considered the charges from the National Nurses Organizing Committee to be serious.

The union says it started asking the county in November 2006 to sit down for formal negotiations about planned layoffs. But the county "refused to bargain in good faith" or tell the union about its plans, the complaint alleges.

About 230 nurses' jobs are set to be eliminated in the 2007 budget, and the union says 61 nurses already have been laid off.

In a complaint Wednesday, the board said its investigation found the union's allegation "involves ... issues of fact or law," which is enough to warrant a hearing.

If the hearing officer and board ultimately side with the union, the board could levy penalties against the county or even order the rehiring of some employees.

Board President Todd Stroger's office says it wasn't given the chance to tell the labor board its side of the story.

"We had been given until May 3 to provide a response to the initial (charges) by the union," Stroger spokeswoman Christine Geovanis said. "We're frankly taken aback that a week before the deadline to file our response, the board has gone ahead and issued a complaint."

Labor board executive director John Brosnan said his investigator did talk with county officials and there was no question that the union's charges had some validity.

"The nurses union asked to bargain, and the county didn't," Brosnan said. "That was all very clear, and there was no one denying that."

This doesn't mean the county has done anything wrong, Brosnan said, which is what the hearings will determine. Both sides will get a chance to present their case before an administrative law judge.

Geovanis said the nurses union repeatedly has refused to submit its proposals in writing to the county, but the county will continue to work with the union as best it can.

"We don't believe that we violated the law, and we intend to vigorously defend our position," Geovanis said.

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