Answers on Park District union settlement hard to find

Almost three weeks ago I wrote an article about a settlement reached between the Chicago Park District and SEIU Local 73, a union that represents a number of park district employees, including hourly folks who keep the greens green, staff the summer camps and provide general upkeep of the grounds.

In an effort to balance the 2001 budget, the district cut hours for part-time employees without bargaining with the union. State labor regulators deemed the move violated the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act.

The district pressed its case in court, and ended up footing the bill for years of litigation. And ultimately officials agreed to fork over $3.5 million in back pay and other benefits to workers, some of whom have called me asking how they can get theirs.

While writing that story, I wondered how much the whole matter set the park district back. Lawyers aren't cheap, as anyone who's ever had to hire one knows. So I figured it'd be a quick call for some followup questions to the district's spokeswoman, Jessica Maxey-Faulkner.

After a few unsuccessful attempts to reach her, my calls were directed to Ivy Blanton, who would very politely take my messages.

Eventually Blanton asked me to send written questions to her, so she could forward them to Maxey-Faulkner.

This went on for almost two weeks until it became a labor of love. I wasn't going to stop calling.

Finally, on March 26, the district asked me to put my questions into a Freedom of Information Act request.

Of course, I wasn't looking for records -- just answers to a few simple questions:

  • How much did the district's penny pinching ultimately cost taxpayers when the attorney's fees and settlement were combined? 
  • Did the district feel it was adequately represented when its attorney's suggested they fight instead of throw in the towel early?


Despite that, I decided to play ball.

I emailed my questions to Nilsa Rolon-Roberson, a legal secretary at the district.

Yesterday, an envelope arrived fromm the district's senior legal counsel.

I hoped it might contain the answers to my questions.

Nope.

Inside was a form letter signed by the attorney acknowledging my request with a check mark next to "the request requires the collection of a substantial number of specified records;"

I'm thinking the documents should probably be somewhere near the lawyer's desk, considering the settlement is less than a month old. And if he'd picked up the phone, he wouldn't have had to put the letter together, along with printing my emailed request, and put them in an envelope, then pay for a stamp.

Anyone want to guess how long it'll take to get some answers on this one?

Staff Writer Fernando Diaz covers labor and unions for the Daily News. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 14, or fernando [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.

Discuss

THOMAS WESTGARD, 04-03-2009

Normally, the party requesting payment of attorney fees would have to submit a written, itemized bill for services to the judge making the decision. You should look in the court file.

GEOFF DOUGHERTY, 04-03-2009

Hey, Thomas. That's not a bad idea. I'll check with Fernando and see if he's looked into that.

FERNANDO DIAZ, 04-03-2009

I will check this out, when I spoke with the district's officials there was no mention that these fees were included in the settlement. The breakdown was for unpaid wages and the establishment of a scholarship fund. Will let you know as it rolls in. Thanks TW.