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Analysis: School vote doesn’t mean Rahm Emanuel will go after other city unions

Updated: August 3, 2011 10:04PM

The decision by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s handpicked school board to nullify a four percent pay raise negotiated with Chicago teachers sent shock waves through the rest of organized labor.

If the Chicago Board of Education can unilaterally determine it cannot afford to honor the teachers contract, what’s preventing Emanuel from doing the same with city unions, many of which did not endorse him?

The answer is, there are some important differences between the city and the schools.

For one thing, Emanuel controls the school board. He does not control the City Council, where organized labor has many friends and has spent millions to keep it that way.

The mayor also needs labor’s cooperation to confront the city’s daunting pension crisis and its $700 million-a-year operating deficit while keeping the garbage and snow from piling up.

On June 30, an agreement that required unionized employees to take furlough days and substitute comp time for cash overtime is due to expire. Emanuel has challenged the unions to come up with $16 million in savings built into former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s final budget, but not yet negotiated.

Lou Phillips, business manager of Laborer’s Local 1001, said he’s working to finalize a menu of cost-saving ideas to respond to Emanuel’s challenge.

Phillips said he’s not concerned that the gauntlet laid down to the Chicago Teachers Union could be a prelude to a declaration of war against all unions.

“I don’t think they would do something like that. I just have that feeling. Hopefully, we’ll save him enough money by then to pay us. I’m not saying we’re gonna take a concession or a cut in pay. But, we can talk about other things. Phillips said.

“The name of the game is communication. If there’s no communication on either part, it comes to a stand-off at the end and it becomes a battle. With ideas and working together, we don’t have to come to that end.”

He added, “These guys are coming off a two-year deal of furlough days and no paid holidays. They’re hurting bad. Financially, they did a great service to the city. I don’t think it was recognized by the old mayor. It has to be recognized by the new mayor.”

In 2007, Daley signed a ten-year agreement with the building trades that included a prevailing wage the city could not afford to guarantee labor peace through a 2016 Summer Olympic Games that was ultimately awarded to Rio de Janeiro.

The trade unions can only hope the new mayor doesn’t take the same stand with them that the school board did with the teachers.

They can only pray that mayoral challenger Gery Chico was wrong during a campaign debate when he warned that Emanuel’s dictatorial, confrontation style could have real consequences.

“I worry about whether labor is going to be able to deal with this,” Chico said then. “Are we gonna have snow picked up? Are we gonna have the garbage picked up? Are we gonna have the buses and trains running?”

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