Plainfield Park District Retaliated Against Pro-Union Employee: Labor Board

Peck, Coldwater accused of interrogating employee, who was ultimately disciplined, then fired.

Credit: File photo
Credit: File photo
ALSO READ: Peck Resigns from Plainfield Park District

Updated at 5 p.m. Jan. 22.

The Illinois Labor Relations Board has ordered the Plainfield Park District to offer full reinstatement to an employee who was allegedly disciplined, then terminated for reportedly speaking to a coworker about unionizing.

Under the Jan. 9 ruling, the district must also compensate former park maintenance staffer Joel Schumaker for wages missed after he was fired.

Executive Director Garrett Peck and park district spokesman Doug Booth did not immediately respond to inquiries from Patch on Wednesday. Board president Peter Hurtado said he was aware of Schumaker's complaint, but said he had no details on the issue.

"It's been [handled] by our labor attorney, and that's all I know at this time," Hurtado said.

Board commissioner Larry Newton, on the other hand, expressed outrage that he was not told about the ruling.

"I am completely flabbergasted that none of the details of that order have been communicated to board members up to this point," Newton said in an email to Patch. "This is completely unacceptable."

Newton also blasted Peck.

"Do the details surprise anyone?," he said. "Are they not consistent with what we've heard about the Executive Director's modus operandi?"

In its decision, the labor board found that by failing to file a response, the park district admitted to the allegations in an Aug. 29, 2013 complaint filed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees [AFSCME] Council 31.

The labor board found that on Aug. 15, Peck and newly promoted Assistant Executive Director Gene Coldwater interrogated Schumaker and coworker John Nickl regarding their involvement with the union. The questioning came after park district staffers began looking into unionizing.

On Aug. 23, Peck disciplined Schumaker for allegedly soliciting a fellow employee to become a member of the union, the labor board said. 

Less than a month later, Schumaker was re-assigned to new duties, according to the ruling. On Nov. 1, he was fired.

The ruling found that by its acts described above, "the respondent has discriminated against a public employee in order to discourage membership in or support for [AFSCME]," in violation of the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act. Click here to read the entire ruling.

The labor board has ordered the park district to rescind Peck's decision to discipline and re-assign Schumaker, and to offer Schumaker immediate reinstatement to his former position. The ruling goes on to order the park district to "make [Schumaker] whole in accordance with this decision, for any loss of earnings he may have suffered because of his termination, including back pay plus interest at a rate of 7 percent per annum."

For 60 days, the park district must keep a notice posted letting employees know about the violations and outlining their rights, including:
  • To engage in self-organization
  • To form, join or assist unions
  • To bargain collectively through a representative of your own choosing
  • To act together with other employees to bargain collectively or for other mutual aid protection
  • To refrain from these activities

The notice also contains a pledge from the park district to cease and desist from retaliating and discriminating against Schumaker and Nickl, or any other employees, for engaging in union activity.

In August, the park board voted to set aside $70,000 for legal expenses, up from $20,000 the year before, to cover potential legal costs related to unionization.

At the time, Peck denied 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.

"... "If [unionizing] is what the employees really want," Peck said, "we're going to do it."

Late reply seals ruling

According to the Jan. 9 ruling, the allegations were investigated by the labor board and a complaint for hearing was issued to the park district on Nov. 26, 2013. Park officials had 15 days to respond, but failed to meet the Dec. 17 deadline.

Instead, six days after the deadline, the park district filed a motion seeking permission to file a late answer. According to the document, an attorney for the park district explained the tardy reply by saying the complaint did not specify whether the deadline was 15 business days, or 15 calendar days.

The park district's request for more time was denied.


Like Newton, commissioner Mary Kay Ludemann said park officials did not tell her about the ruling.

"I knew there was an issue," she said. "I just found out about that exact document last night," Ludemann added, saying she was notified by a resident who found the document while researching the park district online.

"As a board member, it's extremely disappointing that this has been since Jan. 9 and I found out from a resident on Jan. 21," she said. "That's what floors me."

Ludemann was also disappointed by the alleged actions of park district administrators.

"It's disappointing that Gene and Garrett participated in that type of conduct," she said. "It's disappointing that our attorney didn't respond in time. I'm just disappointed in the whole matter."

Special board meeting rescheduled

A special board meeting to discuss personnel and litigation is now scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24, in the lower level at the Heritage Professional Center, 24023 W. Lockport St.

The meeting was originally set for Wednesday, but had been cancelled.

Vicky Polito January 22, 2014 at 11:56 PM
It is clear that Peck, Hurtado, Silosky, and Steinys see both Ludemann and Newton as THREATS to their own selfish agenda. Just consider these few of many supporting facts: They changed the meeting date for all 2014 board meetings to a day that Peck KNOWS she normally has to work just to try to keep Mary Kay Ludemann from attending meetings. Peter Steinys’ only regular contribution at meetings is to be Hurtado and Pecks barking dog and he most recently yipped and yowled at Larry Newton (it was disgraceful and stupid, go watch it on YouTube). Garrett Peck tells them what they “can’t” vote on as commissioners and pretends that they are just confused when they repeat a fact to him that he doesn’t like. Hurtado gives them his angry man glare when they dare to ask a question he doesn’t like. Silosky viciously and shamefully wages a personal and slanderous attack on Mary Kay Ludemann during a meeting over the St. John’s park land lease deal. The whole cluster of them treats these two honest and ethical commissioners not like the peers they are supposed to be, but like dirt. When they treat commissioners Ludemann and Newton that way it is the same as treating the citizens that way because the commissioners are the elected representatives of the people. Peck, Hurtado, Silosky, Steinys would like nothing better than to get nice and cozy on a board that didn’t force them to spend energy limiting people’s rights and cutting off access to district business. Why work to subvert the will of the people as you spend their money if you can just surround yourself with like-minded twits who won’t make a sound? Don’t let anyone closely allied with the current board majority get onto this or any local board from now on—not the parks, not the library, not the fire protection district, not the schools, and not the village. Keep your own score card for each of these people, look at what they say and what they do, and you’ll see that if we ever want to have a good park district again, it is imperative that we not lose commissioners Ludemann and Newton, especially leading up to the 2017 election when we can hand Hurtado his hat (if he’s foolish enough to run).
Randy Wayne January 23, 2014 at 12:17 AM
The most amazing thing is that Peck somehow thought that he could get away with all of this. What, does he think we're all a bunch of dumb hicks?
Plainfield Independent January 23, 2014 at 12:43 AM
"All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship." George Bernard Shaw
Sheila Raddatz January 23, 2014 at 08:43 AM
So, with the letter not being presented properly to the board, does this mean that the letter was not posted and the two employees were not hired back as ordered? Was the issue totally blown off? Or was there just the whole "lack of communication" game going on again? Curious.....
Penny Wharvey January 23, 2014 at 08:55 AM
Glad the guy was able to get his job back, but there is some incompetence here that needs to be explained. If the attorney dropped the ball, the board needs to file a complaint with the IARDC. If the board or the executive director dropped the ball, there needs to be an investigation on wasting the taxpayers money.
Vicky Polito January 23, 2014 at 08:56 AM
I think Sheila that the part they blew so far is only the bit about responding to the labor board, thus admitting guilt, and certainly the not notifying all park board members is a dumb thing to have done. If I'm doing the math correctly, they until the 29th, six days from now, to tell the labor board how they have complied with the order issued and they have some time beyond that to make any appeal? I'm guessing the meeting, closed session, this Friday will deal with a lot of this and I think one thing that will happen is that Peck will throw the labor law firm (was it Rock, Fusco?) under the bus as being at fault for the late response (vs. actually telling anyone what if any legit defense they expected the lawyers to take to the state board). Does that sound right? Anyone else have a better grasp they would explain? Thanks.
Shannon Antinori (Editor) January 23, 2014 at 09:13 AM
Sheila, that's a good question. Since the PPD is not responding to my calls, I did send them an email with several questions, including asking whether Mr. Schumaker has been offered to be reinstated. I did not get a response from Mr. Booth or Mr. Peck, but Mr. Hurtado did reply and said he was aware of the complaint but did not have details beyond that yet. I am guessing this will be addressed at tomorrow night's special meeting, although I don't have any information regarding the agenda beyond the fact that the board will be discussing personnel and litigation (in closed session).
Jimmy Parks January 23, 2014 at 09:18 AM
This is just me, but if I am the executive director, I am following up with the attorneys on daily basis. Even if it is just to ask for a progress report to provide to the board. By day 10, I would be having conversations with them 2 times a day to make sure our deadline is met. No reason little Peck couldn't have done this. Unless as previously mentioned, there was really not much to mount a defense on. Don't see how this could be confidential, and need to be in closed-session, to terminate outside counsel
Vicky Polito January 23, 2014 at 09:20 AM
Don’t forget folks, special meeting scheduled of PTPD board for tomorrow, Friday, 6p at the Heritage Professional Center (old Midwest Bank at Illinois and Lockport intersection, back entrance, downstairs). See PTPD website for agenda. There is a public comment portion, but the only action will be to go to closed session, then reconvene and take any action stemming from closed session (they are required to vote/take a decision in view of the public on any issue). So, it may not be very interesting from the perspective of what the public can “witness” BUT, it might be pretty interesting to see how much of the public this board and Peck have to “witness” showing up! See link for info: www.plainfieldparkdistrict.com/about-board.asp.
Jimmy Parks January 23, 2014 at 09:21 AM
Shannon, allow me to respond. "No comment" from Booth. Peck is still pouting, and will not be answering to anyone until we all apologize for hurting his feelings. For Hurtado to say that he doesn't have details beyond that he is aware is reason enough for him to step-down. It's his responsibility to know this. He should be driving this to resolution. He appears to be driving the no comment bus down the wrong way, again.
Lori Bearbower January 23, 2014 at 10:28 AM
Hello- we are fairly new to the Plainfield area and we are disappointed to see such bad news in a community we have loved thus far. Can someone please explain to me how the Park District is different ( or the same) as a city council and why this Department has so much power and is causing so much hatred in our community? I have been a big supporter of signing up for Park District programs for my kids, however, reading all this bad publicity about an organization has me concerned. It doesn't need to be long, but I would like to understand the differences and why this Park Distric Department is causing so much trouble in our town. Thank you
Jimmy Parks January 23, 2014 at 10:45 AM
@Lori, prior to the running unopposed Hurtado joining and disrupting the park district board with his friends and family plan, the park district was fantastic. With all the cronyism, it is a shell of its old self in a very short period of time. The people that work there are trying in these very difficult times to keep things great for residents, but I would cautious to sign-up for anything until this mess gets resolved. Commissioners Newton and Ludemann are working tirelessly, but they are being stymied by Hurtado, Peck, Steinys and Silosky all the time. Prior to April 2013, there was very little reason for any hatred or negative speech. While the current group of thugs calls it change that has everyone upset, the repeated heinous actions by these four people have had very negative impacts on the park district & its brand. The park district is its own entity. It does not report to the Village or any other entity. It is suppose to serve the citizens whose tax-base is used to run and operate the park district. Unfortunately, Hurtado is trying to run it like a business, but is failing miserably. There are going to be problems from their tenure that are going to last for long after these four either move on, or hopefully resign and let true caring people of our community work with Commissioners Newton and Ludemann to get things back on course.
Vicky Polito January 23, 2014 at 10:47 AM
Lori B--you might find it faster and just easier to find the various stories on the park district on sites for The Patch, The Trib, The Enterprise, The Herald-News, WJOL, etc., and click and read and listen and just generally speaking use the internet to search for the district, for the names of those persons you want to know more about. Similarly, you can go to YouTube, search "ppd mtng" and then use the filters to sort the video-recordings of all PTPD meetings since the Oct 9th 2013 one that pop up. Note that there is also a long recording made by, I think, Grant Spooner, of the July 24th Plainfield Park District Budget Hearing and Meeting (that one won't come up under "ppd mtng", you have to seek it out as a separate search). That way, you can choose to watch and listen to the last few months of meetings at will and come to your own conclusions.
Vicky Polito January 23, 2014 at 10:49 AM
Oh, I stand corrected--that synopsis from Jimmy Parks was VERY well done!
John January 23, 2014 at 10:52 AM
Lori, it is pretty much one person who is causing all these problems. The same person has caused problems in almost every position he has previously held. He was elected there because of voter apathy and then was given full power by the PPD to appoint his cronies and make all the important decisions on a 3/5 majority vote.
Plainfield Independent January 23, 2014 at 10:59 AM
Unfortunately, the voting public has some blame in this for not paying attention at election time. The citizens are in charge, not these local boards. Be vigilant folks!
Lori Bearbower January 23, 2014 at 11:01 AM
Thanks everyone- that helps. I did send a "Letter of concern as a parent" to the Park District website... We have always been happy with the coaching staff thru the park district, but will think twice if there's so much negative comments going on. Just know that many parents in my community are listening as well.... but since we are the "new ones" in our community, I just didn't know this history, so thank you.
Mayhem January 23, 2014 at 11:11 AM
Lori- We have been involved with the Park District for 11 years. During this time, we never encountered any issues with the way it was being run until lately. The programs were solid, and you knew that the people involved really cared about the residents. That feeling is long gone. The creativity is long gone. You ask about the power they have, well that comes from the fact that the Board majority is made up of Hurtado, Silosky, and Steinys. They are all friends. Peck is also part of the merry band of morons. They are all power hungry and egotistical. Who truly knows what their agenda is because as you can see, everything is done behind closed doors. The 3 of them have little pow wows and don't include the other Board members. The hatred comes from the lack of respect these clowns show the residents during meetings. (Rolling their eyes when people are speaking, passing notes while people are speaking, playing tic tac toe, no eye contact, refusal to answer questions from the public, spending the contingency fund on BS things like legal fees, outright lying to the public, keeping secrets....the list goes on and on. This is why so many people are utilizing Park Districts in Naperville, Joliet, Romeoville, Bolingbrook, and Oswego.
J. Hagen January 23, 2014 at 11:40 AM
Lori, although I have lived in other places I am from Plainfield and have lived here most of my life. I love it here and have participated in many Park District programs. My Mother taught bridge for the Park District. There was never any controversy whatsoever about the management. Until now. I have attended previous meetings of the current board and will attend the meeting tomorrow evening. I am looking for ways to work with others toward ending the current awful situation.
Vicky Polito January 23, 2014 at 11:53 AM
Wanted to say to Lori as well that we've lived here for about 15 years. We CHOOSE Plainfield for so many good things it offers. There were practical factors, like a good work commute and included looking hard and comparatively at the park district, at fire protection, etc. There were those more subjective factors, the ones you can't quite describe in concrete terms. We just had a good feeling about the town, about the people, about the potential, and about the house we found, etc. My husband remembers driving an ice cream truck around these parts as a teen with a summer job and was a little sentimental about it. We could have moved to lots of other fine towns, but Plainfield was "the finest of the fine" to our hearts and heads! Despite this bit of ugliness going on, this is, as you probably know, a fantastic place to make a home and build a full, rich, and meaningful life.
Penny Wharvey January 23, 2014 at 12:58 PM
official misconduct n. improper and/or illegal acts by a public official which violate his/her duty to follow the law and act on behalf of the public good.
John Simpson January 23, 2014 at 03:50 PM
Mr. Peck should be fired. This is why we can’t support Peck’s tea bag Republican buddy Chris Balkema for Congress.
Jo January 23, 2014 at 04:28 PM
Ok, the Labor Board has decided that Mr. Schumaker was fired in retaliation and must be reinstated with back pay etc... But can he still sue the PPD for this? Is it possible there may be additional legal fees etc that we taxpayers are going to be responsible for?
Mayhem January 23, 2014 at 05:27 PM
Peck resigns!! it is about time
Mark Murphy January 23, 2014 at 05:42 PM
I'm certain he had trouble getting along with other children as a child. How did he ever get elected as a Trustee? To think he wanted to represent us in Springfield is frightening. If he hasn't resigned, we should also demand the resignation of those responsible for his presence in the Park district. Mr. Peck save yourself the insult, don't even consider another term as Trustee. Spend some time with a Doctor!
Ame Bible January 23, 2014 at 07:13 PM
Pass a petittion and demand that the other 3 resign. They have not acted in good will or the best interest of the residents.
Jimmy Parks January 23, 2014 at 07:36 PM
@Ame Bible, you are 100% correct. They also need to go, and now!
Frank January 23, 2014 at 10:12 PM
Racich for President.
Jimmy Parks January 23, 2014 at 10:14 PM
@Frank, I second that!
Chuck Bryan January 23, 2014 at 10:15 PM
I have lived in a variety of places, and can say that the Joliet-Plainfield-Will County area is far and away the most bizarre, weird, and dysfunctional at the political level (it's overall bizarre in general and I would definitely not advise anyone move here). A new board comes on and immediately makes a political hire (Peck), who has no experience or expertise with parks, all because they want to reward someone with patronage. Meanwhile, the professional park district person "resigns" and the parks and community loses a good person - the typical pattern of the good person being pushed out to make room for the friends and recipients of patronage, who inevitably are the bad people. Personal agendas are placed ahead of what's best for the community, parks, and children. The only conclusion one can make is that the elected officials in this region are psychopaths who don't care about people; only about their personal political agendas. Think of the money this situation - caused by the board and Peck - costs the taxpayers to fulfill their crazy and weird agendas (playground equipment, preschool programs, etc.).


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