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Cement mason union agrees to Rahm Emanuel’s overtime cut

Mayor Rahm Emanuel  | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 29, 2011 12:34AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has convinced one of the city’s building trade unions to accept time-and-half for overtime, instead of double-time, to save jobs, a move he hopes, will trigger similar concessions from other unions needed to avert 625 layoffs.

“It could be a small hole in the boat that makes the whole thing break open,” said a City Hall source, who asked to remain anonymous.

The surprise decision by Cement Masons Local 502 impacts 67 seasonal city employees and saves the jobs of six members targeted for seasonal layoffs.

It marks the first break in the otherwise united front by labor leaders who have so far refused the mayor’s demand for $10 million in work-rule changes.

Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez angrily denied that the side deal with the Cement Masons created a chink in labor’s armor.

In fact, Ramirez said his labor organization — which has scheduled a news conference for Tuesday to unveil its cost saving alternatives to work rule changes — has “never said no” to the mayor’s demand for work-rule changes.

Instead, the federation has criticized the mayor for publicly demanding work rule changes while failing to negotiate them with individual unions whose members would be impacted by those salary-shaving changes, Ramirez said.

“A crack in labor’s armor? Not at all. We set up the meeting with these guys last Monday to have these exact discussions,” Ramirez said.

“We told the mayor that Tom [Villanova, president of the Chicago Building Trades Council] and I were not authorized to negotiate work rule changes. There was a process, and they never followed that process. We helped facilitate that meeting with all the unions and the city so they could start having those exact discussions. It’s another example of the partnership we were trying to establish with the mayor.”

Ramirez was asked whether the cement mason’s decision to accept time-and-a-half, instead of double-time would convince other trade unions to do the same, saving the city $4.3 million-a-year.

“It might. I don’t know. You would have to talk to them. I am not at those individual negotiating sessions. Some unions are negotiating. Some are not,” he said.

The cement masons deal was negotiated by Local 502’s business agent Kevin Farley, who refused to comment on the agreement.

Other sources said the deal calls for all 67 members to accept time-and-a-half for overtime with only two exceptions: Double-time will continue to be paid for every hour above 12 in a day and on the seventh day of work in a week.

On July 15, Emanuel said he would send layoff notices to 625 employees — and put off 61 blocks of curb and gutter improvements and 76 blocks of sidewalk repairs — after union leaders refused to agree to work rule changes or identify alternative cost savings by an extended deadline.

The layoffs targeted 75 percent of the Chicago Department of Transportation’s seasonal workforce, city custodians who maintain libraries and O’Hare and Midway Airports and employees who operate the water bill call center and manage city benefits.

Six cement finishers were supposed to be among the 130 seasonal layoffs. The overtime agreement will allow all of them to keep their jobs.

Ramirez refused to discuss the alternative savings proposed by Pennsylvania-based Public Works LLC, the consultant handpicked by the Chicago Federation of Labor to scour the city budget.

The report is expected to focus heavily on organized labor’s longstanding beef that City Hall has far too many middle-managers, many of them drawing six-figure salaries.

Aldermen have long complained that the city’s roughly 1:8 ratio of middle-managers to front-line workers was nearly double the norm for private industry.

Emanuel has asked organized labor to choose $10 million in savings from a $19 million menu of work-rule changes that go far beyond getting rid of double-time.

The list includes: establishing a 40-hour work week, instead of 35 hours; paying straight-time for prepping a vehicle at the start of a shift, instead of time and a half and treating 1,000 salaried trades people like their private sector counterparts — by eliminating their sick pay and reducing their paid holidays from 12 a year to nine.

The mayor also wants to cut the pay of motor truck drivers who drive vehicles that do not require a commercial drivers license, reducing their pay by $12.25 an hour more or $25,000 a person.

He has further proposed: paying hoisting engineers different hourly rates, based on the class of machines they are operating; eliminating the 9 percent premium paid to laborers who work alone on city garbage trucks; paying 28 hoisting engineer mechanics the same hourly rate as machinists instead of $8 more an hour and establishing lower so-called “break-in rates” for more categories of city employees.

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