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Emanuel holds fire with unions, refrains from laying off 625

 Mayor Rahm Emanuel announces cost savings efficiencies begclosing $31 milligap created by end furloughs. Friday July 1 2011. |

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announces cost savings and efficiencies to begin closing the $31 million gap created by the end to furloughs. Friday, July 1, 2011. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 2, 2011 6:27AM

Bending over backward to forge a partnership with organized labor, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday authorized $20 million in budget cuts that do not impact union jobs and said he would await labor’s ideas before pulling the trigger on 625 layoffs.

“Partner is actually somebody who participates in achieving a common goal, so I’m gonna give ‘em the chance. If I acted too quickly, it’s not fair,” said Emanuel, whose campaign largely got the cold shoulder from organized labor.

Referring to layoff notices, Emanuel said, “I’m not gonna send those out because it would violate, what I think is the spirit and environment and atmosphere I’m trying to construct where I want labor to be a partner. I understand it’s difficult for them. But I’ll tell you this, it’s not as difficult as sending out pink slips.”

The $20 million in cuts are in addition to the $75 million the new mayor authorized on his first full day in office. They would come from not filling up to 200 vacant jobs and ordering seven city health clinics to partner with federally-qualified community health centers.

Emanuel argued that the state has a similar partnership and manages to deliver care for $128 per patient, while the city’s costs are $223. Doing the same at the city level has the potential to deliver better care at a fraction of the cost, the mayor said.

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley left behind a fiscal time bomb — and set the stage for a confrontation between his successor and organized labor — by balancing his final budget with what Emanuel calls “smoke and mirrors.” It anticipates a full-year of savings from unions concessions not yet negotiated.

At midnight Thursday, an agreement expired that required unionized city employees to take the equivalent of 24 unpaid furlough days each year and substitute comp time for cash overtime.

Emanuel has called furloughs a morale killer that did not produce the anticipated savings. He has ended them for the entire city workforce, at a cost of $30 million, and challenged union leaders to come up with alternative savings.

The mayor could have played his trump card by sending out 30-day layoff notices to 625 city employees who stand to lose their jobs, now that the midnight Thursday deadline has passed.

But instead, he held his fire in hope of forging the “partnership” he needs with organized labor to solve the city’s financial crisis — not only this year, but next.

Earlier this week, labor leaders reacted to Emanuel’s layoff ultimatum with a somewhat defiant statement.

The olive branch the mayor extended Friday was greeted warmly.

In a prepared statement Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez and Tom Villanova, president of the Chicago Building Trades Council said they were “working diligently” to develop cost-cutting ideas that will “put the city back on track without negatively impacting working families and taxpayers.”

“We plan to present the mayor with our ideas in the coming weeks. ... We believe there are a number of ways city government can operate more effectively and efficiently. Once again, the men and women and organized labor are demonstrating a willingness and desire to be a part of the solution,” the leaders said.

Noting that their members have already endured two years of pay cuts, Ramirez and Villanova said, “We commend the public servants, themselves residents of the city and members of our communities, who have sacrificed over the years ... and look forward to continuing this process of working together.”

Ramirez has said he’s hired a “expert municipal budget analyst” who needs two more weeks to pinpoint potential cost savings.

Now, the CFL has that time before the pink slips fly while a mayor not known for his patience exercises just that to avoid the contradiction of cutting city jobs at a time when he’s trumpeting the 3,600 private sector jobs attracted to Chicago since he took office.

“I am not interested in laying off 625 people. I want to save jobs. I don’t like giving people pink slips. I believe in partners. I await their ideas,” he said.

The mayor noted that he presented labor with nine proposed work-rule changes and that union leaders and the city are “already working on” one of them.

“If we’re all flexible and everybody has a little skin in the game, (then the problem can be solved). And I didn’t say they were gonna adopt all nine ideas. But if they at least go to two or three, we’re home free,” the mayor said.

Thousands of job cuts and a two-year hiring freeze during the Daley years have already had a dramatic impact on city housekeeping services. The cuts have forced the Department of Streets and Sanitation to choose between street sweeping, tree trimming and rodent control, among other services.

Earlier this week, City Council members warned that they and their constituents would not tolerate further cuts in housekeeping services that are an alderman’s bread-and-butter. Emanuel has steadfastly refused to identify the 625 targeted employees or explain what services would be reduced, eliminated or privatized.

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