Local 700 Wins Landmark Court Decision on Public Policy
From 1999-2006, Thomas Morano was a garage foreman in Facilities Management at the University of Illinois-Chicago. The university fired him in 2007. In the five years since, the Teamsters Local 700 member has been unable to find another full-time job. He’s lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in wages, he’s faced foreclosure on his home and his family has struggled without health insurance.
“I fell through the cracks,” Morano said. “The university pushed me through the cracks.”
The only group stopping him from falling further into the abyss was the Teamsters Union, which helped the floor beneath Morano’s feet grow sturdy once again this month. On Friday, Aug. 24, Illinois’ 4th District Appellate Court sided with Local 700 to set a new legal precedent for the court’s power to determine public policy and overturn erroneous decisions by state labor boards.
It’s a landmark ruling that may ultimately get Morano, 59, back to work, and help the Teamster reclaim the wages and benefits denied to him over the last half-decade.
“This has been a long time coming,” Morano said. “Words cannot describe how thankful I am for my union.”
Labor Board Flip-Flops
Morano was hired into the garage unit in July 1999 and moved through the ranks to foreman by 2005. Early the next year, he was arrested at home on a charge unrelated to work and entered into a last-chance, probationary agreement with the university in November 2006. Eight months later, without further incident, UIC’s then-Chancellor Sylvia Manning made an executive decision to fire the Teamster member.
“The Teamsters went to bat for Morano immediately, entering arbitration to challenge the university’s sudden and unjust termination,” said Kevin Camden, Local 700 General Counsel. “Management took the position that an infraction outside of the university somehow violated a public policy prohibiting violence on college campuses. They argued this position despite our member’s flawless job performance over eight years. Their baseless claim really became the crux of this case.”
An arbitrator agreed with the Teamsters in late 2008, ordering Morano’s reinstatement at work. Despite the arbitration award, UIC ignored the ruling for years and failed to reach an agreement with the local through several rounds of mediation in 2010. Finally, an administrative law judge with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB) was forced to respond to the Teamsters’ unfair labor practice charge.
In January 2011, the judge reversed the arbitration award after unilaterally deciding that the re-employment of anyone with a criminal record would violate public policy regarding university safety. When that decision was eventually overruled again by the entire IELRB and Morano’s reinstatement was upheld for a second time, UIC filed an appeal with the Appellate Court.
Local 700 Raises the Bar
“The Appellate Court made the right decision last week that the original arbitration award was fair and must remain intact,” said Becky Strzechowski, Local 700 President. “As we have done and will continue to do for all of our members, Local 700 stood behind Tom Morano every step of the way to protect his rights and oppose the exploitation of hardworking people.”
In addition to preserving Morano’s reinstatement, the Appellate Court’s ruling on UIC’s appeal clearly defines the court’s position to interpret public policy through the constitution, laws and judicial decisions. Without evidence that his actions at work ever violated public policy, the court acknowledged that Morano’s 2007 termination was indeed unjust.
Moreover, the court set the precedent that IELRB decisions on public policy are not necessarily final and can be subject to complete redetermination.
Local 700 Attorney Cass Casper, who delivered the Teamsters’ oral argument in the case, was complimented by the director of the IELRB for his research, diligence and refusal to settle on behalf of a member.
UIC reserves the right to file for an additional appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, a decision it must make soon. The Supreme Court does not have to hear the case.
“This case dragged on for five years of my life and it should have been resolved at the arbitration level,” Morano said. “But thanks to the Local 700 leadership, I survived this. The Teamsters have been outstanding. I would have been a loser without Local 700. I would have been done.”
As far as the leadership of Local 700 is concerned, the union is determined to keep moving forward.
“With this precedent, Local 700 is raising the bar on our defense of Teamster members,” Strzechowski said. “Not only can this legal argument potentially protect workers in future and similar situations, it helps the union send a clear message to employers: the representatives and members of Local 700 will not back down without a fight.”
Teamsters Local 700, an affiliate of Teamsters Joint Council 25, represents more than 13,000 hardworking men and women across Metropolitan Chicago and the State of Illinois.