Merit Board Agrees to Suspend Hearings While Awaiting Legislative Changes
(Park Ridge, Ill.) – Facing a challenge by Teamsters Local 700 to the Cook County Merit Board’s ability to function, attorneys for the Sheriff and the Board agreed in open court this week that they would no longer conduct hearings or decide cases while Governor Rauner considers recently passed legislative changes to the Board. Because the defendants effectively agreed to the most significant relief sought by the union, a judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County saw no need to enter any further orders at that time. However, the judge invited Teamsters Local 700 to come back if anything changed or if the defendants did not live up to the representations made to court.
The judge made it clear that the Merit Board needed seven members to be valid, a further rejection of the Sheriff and Board’s legal position. While arguing that the Merit Board may legally operate with less than a full complement of members, the judge interrupted the Sheriff’s representatives and stated that it must have seven members. “It’s that simple,” the judge said.
“This is a significant victory for our members that work at the Cook County Department of Corrections and the union as a whole,” said Teamsters Local 700 President Becky Strzechowski. “Protecting the rights of our members is the cornerstone of what we do as a union and we have pledged to take necessary action when their contractual rights are violated. While the Sheriff continues to run the jail without any regard for his staff, we will continue to hold his feet to the fire to ensure he is held accountable for any illegal and reckless activity he shrugs off at the will of our members.”
The hearing before the judge was a result of a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction filed by Teamsters Local 700 on Nov. 17, 2017. The union requested a temporary restraining order after filing a lawsuit on Oct. 27, 2017 against multiple parties of Cook County challenging how the Merit Board was constituted and its decisions. The motion sought to prohibit the Merit Board from deciding disciplinary cases when it was improperly constituted. Currently, the Merit Board has only five members and one member was appointed for less than a six-year term in violation of the Merit Board Act.
Illinois’ appellate courts have made it clear that an improperly constituted Merit Board renders its actions and decisions invalid. On Sept. 27, 2017, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld an intermediate appellate court decision that held that the Merit Board was illegally constituted if it included any member who was appointed for less than a six-year term. Part of Teamsters Local 700’s challenge included the fact that the Merit Board was operating with less than the statutorily-required number of members, and the present and prior Boards—since at least 2011 and possibly longer—included at least one member who was improperly appointed.
Teamsters Local 700 represents approximately 3,400 correctional officers and investigators at the Cook County Department of Corrections, including nine fugitive unit officers.