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Daley cites union contract in truckers paid to sit around

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Mayor Daley tried Friday to answer the $18 million question posed by his inspector general: why City Hall tolerates having 200 motor truck drivers “paid to do nothing” but drive crews to their work sites and wait in the vehicle until they finish.

“It was a 1985 or `83 [work rule]. ... It was prior [to the Daley years]. You should have reported that,” said the mayor, who took office in 1989.

Daley was asked why he did not negotiate an end to the costly rule during 22 years of negotiations with the Teamsters Union.

“You have to give and take. You give something — and sometimes it’s not worth taking it away. You know that. You can see what’s happening all over,” he said.

“When you want to take something away from somebody — and you know that in your own unions — your union leadership will want something [in return]. And that wanting is more expensive” than you hope.

A Teamsters Union contract that runs until June 2017 prohibits the city from transferring certain driver responsibilities to other employees, except during emergencies. Nor is the city allowed to sub-contract services in a way that would trigger driver layoffs.

Daley signed the ten-year agreement to guarantee labor peace through 2016, when he hoped Chicago would host a Summer Olympic Games ultimately awarded to Rio de Janeiro.

Inspector General Joe Ferguson argued this week that the long-term contracts have “hamstrung” the city — and cost Chicago taxpayers $18 million-a-year for 200 truck drivers the city could do without.

On another subject, the mayor was asked how he feels about wasting political capital on a $100 million Children’s Museum in Grant Park that looks like it will never be built.

At the request of Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, the Children’s Museum, which has had a tough time raising money, is now negotiating to remain and expand at Navy Pier.

“You don’t have children — or do you? I don’t know. But, it’s worth fighting for children. There’s nothing wrong with a museum for children. I really believe that,” the mayor told a Sun-Times reporter.

“The greatest gift in our society are children. Some people may differ with that. But, I think children are the key. And the more children you have — African-American, Hispanic, Asian, rich, poor, all types of minority and ethnic groups — coming together at earlier ages, you don’t have the problems as adults that you see in our society.”

After returning from a 12-day trip to China, Daley was asked why his administration sought $17 million in fines, but settled for a $1 million penalty from taxicab companies accused of endangering their riders by putting wrecks known as “salvaged” vehicles on the street as cabs.

“Gee, I really don’t know,” he said, referring questions to Corporation Counsel Mara Georges.

Daley also belittled this week’s Sun-Times story about dramatic cutbacks in forestry and rodent control services as the city’s third-largest department struggles to sweep the streets and pick up garbage amid a two-year hiring freeze and chronic absenteeism.

“We’ve done this every year. This is nothing new. We’ve done this for the last 22 years,” he said of the employee transfers that his own Streets and Sanitation commissioner blamed on persistent absenteeism now targeted by Emanuel.

As for a federal judge’s decision to overturn cost-saving work-rule changes that stopped a trade show exodus from McCormick Place, Daley said he hasn’t read the opinion. But, he vowed that convention center attorneys would “act accordingly.”

“Conventions are very important for the lifeblood of our city. We compete with Las Vegas and Atlanta and Orlando,” he said.

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