After big changes including major staffing shakeups, Plainfield Park District employees are looking to unionize.
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Last month, employees filed a petition to join Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
Park district spokesman Doug Booth said the Illinois Labor Relations Board requires the park district to respond to a representation petition filed by AFSCME.
On Wednesday, the park board voted to hire law firm Rock Fusco & Connelly to represent them in their dealings with the union. Booth said the petition required a firm that specializes in labor law; the firm's rate is $260 an hour, he said.
According to a letter from the Illinois Labor Relations Board, the
park district had seven days to submit a list of names, job classifications and
signatures of employees included in the petition. Within 14 days, the district
was required to file a written response to the petition.
Park district executive director Garrett Peck said the district asked for and was granted more time to gather data on the job classifications of employees included in the petition.
"I would think by the end of next week we would have the information they requested," Peck said.
Employees included in the petition include all full- and part-time non-professional employees who work more than 1,000 hours a year, including the recreation supervisor, Great Adventures instructor, park maintenance staff, front desk supervisor, recreation assistant, equestrian center staff, dance instructor, dance/tumbling instructor, accountant, parks supervisor, accounting clerk, office staff, equipment supervisor, secretary, horticulturalist supervisor and public information assistant.
Most managerial employees and supervisors — such as Peck and Assistant Executive Director Cameron Bettin — would not be included, according to Booth, who said his position also would not be included.
Peck refuted a rumor that employees were threatened or asked not to sign their union cards.
"That's not true at all," he said. "We had several employees ask us how to redact their signatures" because they felt they had been misled, Peck added, "but no one's been asked not to sign it."
In order to unionize without holding an election, 51 percent of eligible employees would have to sign on, according to Peck.
"I don't know how many signatures they have," he said. "I'm confident that if there were a vote that it would not make it."
A representative for AFSCME Council 31 did not return a call from Patch Wednesday; however, the organization told the Chicago Tribune that the majority of the 44 employees included in the petition have signed union cards.
"If [unionizing] is what the employees really want," Peck said, "we're going to do it."
On Wednesday, Peck wasn't sure how much unionization could ultimately cost the park district in legal fees.
"It depends how far it goes and whether they had enough signatures," he said. "It would be in excess of $50,000, I'll tell you that." Currently, the park district has $70,000 set aside to cover legal expenses. The budget for legal fees was increased by $50,000 — up from $20,000 last year — at the July 24 budget meeting.
Union petition comes after turmoil
Major changes have come since new board members Peter Steinys and Janet Silosky took office in May.
Staffing shakeups have included hiring Peck as the new park district executive director. The board also voted May 28 to amend Bettin's contract. The former superintendent of planning, Bettin originally had a contract to become the new executive director after the retirement of Gregg Bott, was essentially demoted to the position of assistant executive director.
Other staffing changes have including hiring Booth as the new director of communications. Booth, who receives a salary of $5,500 per month and also serves as the park district treasurer, was originally the supervisor of public information coordinator Marianne Ryan, who was let go in June.
At the end of May, Booth said he had signed on to the role for 90 days; now that the time period is nearly up, the job appears to be up for grabs.
In May, Booth said he wasn't sure he would apply to keep the job permanently.
“I might apply if they post it,” he said at the time, “but with the amount of controversy that’s been generated in the last few weeks, I’m not sure.”
All the changes have also prompted the park district to bring former Plainfield village administrator Terry Berghard on board as a human resources consultant.
"A lot of employees were nervous, they were walking on eggshells" not knowing if their job was secure, Peck said. "Terry Berghard was brought in to ease the transition."
Peck said he has the authority to pay Burghard up to $10,000 without board approval. So far in his role as consultant, Burghard has been paid $8,600, according to Peck.