The Labor Injunction
By Gary Bailey, Attorney - Thursday, May 7, 2020
Quite often, the legal staff at the Illinois FOP Labor Council is asked whether it is possible to go to court and obtain an injunction or temporary restraining order to stop a public employer from taking actions that violate the contract. Recently, the Illinois Appellate Court for the First District addressed the legal foundation to obtain this rare judicial remedy in Fraternal Order of Police, Chicago Lodge No. 7, et al. v. City of Chicago, et al., No. 1-20-0066 (January 21, 2020).
The City announced that, based upon findings associated with the entry of a consent decree, it was changing the patrol shift schedule by reducing the number of day-off groups from six to three, and changing the patrol start times that had been negotiated. The Union filed grievances over these two changes and demanded an expedited arbitration. Two days later, the Union filed an emergency motion in the Circuit Court of Cook County, seeking a Temporary Restraining Order requesting the Court to enjoin both schedule changes until the grievances could be arbitrated.
Although the circuit court found that the Union had a likelihood of success on the merits of their grievances, which the City was duty-bound to arbitrate, the court held that the hardships cited by the union did not rise to the level of “irreparable harm” needed to establish the extraordinary remedy of injunctive relief. It determined the Union could obtain reinstatement of the previous schedule if an arbitrator so ordered, and the Union had not proven that it would suffer more from a denial of the injunction than the Police Department would from its issuance.
On appeal, the Appellate Court noted that federal and state policies prohibit the issuance of injunctions in labor disputes involving the arbitration of grievances so as to encourage parties to work out their issues without judicial involvement. However, the Court noted that both Illinois and federal courts have held that there is an exception to that general rule in cases where an injunction was necessary “to preserve the arbitral process” Under that exception, a court can order an employer to stop the disputed changes and maintain the status quo pending arbitration.
To obtain an injunction under this exception, a union must prove that that the grievance is over an issue the parties are bound (by the collective bargaining agreement) to arbitrate; that the breaches are occurring and will continue to occur, or have been threatened and will be committed; that the union has suffered or will suffer irreparable harm as a result; and that the union will suffer more harm from the denial of the injunction that the employer will from its issuance.
In addition, a party seeking injunctive relief must also show a likelihood of success on the merits of the underlying dispute. But in cases involving the arbitration of grievances, courts are wary to infringe upon predetermining the merits of the grievance as it encroaches upon the responsibility of the arbitrator. Instead, the courts merely examine the dispute to ensure the grievance is not frivolous or a futile exercise.
In the Lodge 7 case, the Appellate Court viewed the Union‘s evidence (in the form of sworn affidavits) that the changes to the schedule would create child-care problems, ranging from impossible to expensive, and deteriorate quality time with their children, which no adequate remedy at law could compensate. The Union further argued that changes to day-off groups would destroy long-standing partner relationships, whereby officers would lose peace of mind of their sense of security, both of which were needed to assure back-up safety in dangerous situations.
The Court examined prior caselaw where injunctions were upheld and were dissolved. The Court noted that the type of harm that must be established to obtain an injunction is damage to the arbitral process. The Court found that an arbitrator could grant the union the remedy it wanted: restoration of the previous schedule. The Court noted that an award might not be able to compensate officers for the full extent of the disruption in their lives, but that factor did not render the arbitration process so meaningless that it justified the issuance of an injunction. The lower court’s ruling was upheld.