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Arbitrator in teacher talks knows his way around the hot seat

Updated: August 18, 2012 6:26AM

Edwin Howard Benn, potential broker of peace between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union, has been in the proverbial line of fire before.

The 63-year-old Glencoe attorney chastised city Inspector General Joseph Ferguson in May for urging that some Chicago firefighters in the Fire Prevention Bureau be fired or suspended as a result of a mileage padding scandal. Benn blasted Ferguson’s “draconian” disciplinary recommendations that “demean and denigrate” the Fire Department and all of its members, and compared Ferguson to the Queen of Hearts in “Alice in Wonderland” who liked to say, “Off with their heads.”

Fire employees clearly lied about their expense and mileage reports, Benn said, but the discipline should be overturned because the padding practice was “so deep, long-standing and pervasive that it went beyond condonation to rise to the level of becoming almost a work rule.”

Ferguson shot back just as publicly.

“The idea that stealing, fraudulent falsification of official records and lying is acceptable because everyone else is doing it is patent nonsense,” he retorted. “Any child knows better.”

Benn has for decades mediated disputes involving police and firefighters, transit workers and hockey players, flight attendants and electricians.

CPS and the CTU agreed onthe seasoned attorney to make recommendations in their fractious negotiations to renew the teachers contract that expired June 30.

Benn declined to comment Monday, but a resume posted on the National Mediation Board’s web site shows that he has issued more than 3,600 decisions since 1986 pertaining to work issues including discrimination, wage rates, plant movement and drug and alcohol testing.

He was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1973 and later was admitted to argue before the United States Supreme Court.

Benn spent the early part of his career as a trial attorney for the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago.

For his services, he charges $1,300 per day, plus expenses.

Last fall he determined that State Board of Education employees’ travel time is work time, so 200 workers were due compensatory time for their off-hours travel, and he said that Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to shutter several prisons and mental health facilities would violate a contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

And in 2010, he said that Chicago Police Officers should get a 10 percent raise over five years, far less than the 19 percent the union wanted but more than what then-Mayor Richard Daley offered.

The mayor had yanked an offer to raise police salaries by 16.1 percent over five years, infuriating thousands of officers who circled City Hall chanting “Daley sucks” during a visit by the International Olympic Committee.

“I’m their kicking boy,” Daley said after Benn’s ruling. “In order to make their members mad at me, they have to kick me around. I understand that. That’s how it works.”

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