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Rahm Emanuel: No furlough days for city workers

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced thAllscripts leading global provider Electronic Health Records will  be adding approximately 300 new jobs Chicago

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that Allscripts, leading global provider of Electronic Health Records will be adding approximately 300 new jobs in Chicago during news conference, Tuesday, June 28, 2011. | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 29, 2011 5:08AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel vowed Tuesday to defuse a financial time bomb left behind by former Mayor Richard M. Daley — without unpaid furlough days and with or without union help.

“Furloughs have not worked out economically or for morale — and I’ve heard it directly from the workers. I also know that it’s not worked out for the taxpayers — the people I represent … It hasn’t been the panacea” it was purported to be, Emanuel said.

“June 30 ... the furloughs will end. ... The city work force will get their vacation days and their full work week in. The taxpayers will get that as well. ... But, I’m committed to seeing through the $30 million in savings [generated by unpaid days off required of the entire city work force]. Make no mistake about it.”

Daley set up a showdown between his successor and labor leaders, most of whom did not support Emanuel, by balancing the city’s 2011 budget, in part, with savings from union concessions not yet negotiated.

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

Emanuel has challenged the unions to come up with alternative savings to replace the furlough days that both sides abhor.

If the deadline comes and goes with no replacement for the furloughs, thousands of city tradespeople will essentially get a pay raise. But, a city already facing a record $700 million-a-year operating deficit will fall even deeper in the hole.

Emanuel is not prepared to let that happen.

On Tuesday, the mayor said he’s poised to wield his budget ax at midnight Thursday, presumably by sending out layoff notices.

And while he’s still holding out hope that organized labor will help bridge at least part of the gap, he’s prepared to act unilaterally if they don’t.

Underscoring the urgency, Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez held his “third or fourth” face-to-face meeting with Emanuel on Tuesday. He could not be reached for comment.

Laborers Local 1001 has prepared $2.5 million worth of cost-saving ideas, most involving reverse-privatization or taking back in-house work performed by private contractors. None of the union’s ideas involving shrinking employee paychecks.

“We had a very, very productive meeting,” one administration official said. “The labor leaders with whom we met acknowledge that by embracing reforms we can avoid layoffs. The mayor understands that this is not just about money, this is about employees, their families and our city’s taxpayers.”

Two years ago, Daley threatened to lay off 1,600 city employees and ended up firing just 431 members of two unions that refused to accept furlough days: Teamsters Local 726 and AFSCME Council 31.

To achieve $30 million in savings over six months, Emanuel could be forced to fire roughly the same number of employees.

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