The Heartland Human Services Board has declined a request by striking union members to allow a third party to settle a labor dispute that is in its sixth month.

The Rev. Roger Marshall, board chairman, said for the board to accept binding arbitration — as requested by the American Federation of State, Local and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) last month — would be “irresponsible.”

“The prospect of giving details of the future of our agency to a third party seemed irresponsible for a locally-controlled board,” Marshall said. “Most likely, the third party would not be from this community, would not necessarily understand the significant changes in the mental health field and not have two years of dealing with the union on the issues that have brought us to this point.”

Marshall added the board reached its decision after researching the concept of binding arbitration and consulting attorney John Gilbert of Edwardsville.

AFSCME asked the board to consider binding arbitration as a possible way to settle a strike that began July 2. More than 30 Heartland employees in a variety of departments walked out that day.

Rick Prince, AFSCME staff representative, accused the board of not being serious about ending the impasse.

“Heartland’s management’s behavior is outrageous,” Prince said in a news release. “They forced employees to strike for simple fairness and decent treatment.

“Throughout the last five months, they have failed to serve their clients and, at the same time, they have refused to bargain in good faith. Now, by rejecting binding arbitration, management has shown they have no interest in restoring services, treating employees fairly or ending the strike.”

Prince said in a telephone interview this morning that he feels the company is selling arbitrators short by rejecting the offer.

“This shows how little regard the company has for arbitrators,” he said. “Arbitrators are a very smart bunch of folks.”

Negotiations are set to resume Monday, Marshall said.

Bill Grimes can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 132 or bill.grimes@effinghamdailynews.com.

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