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Rahm Emanuel: 625 city worker layoffs if union won’t accept reforms

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: October 19, 2011 7:23AM



Eager to avoid job cuts but more determined to solve a budget crisis, Mayor Rahm Emanuel posed a painful choice for organized labor: face 625 layoffs or sign off on $20 million in work-rule changes by midnight Thursday.

Emanuel said he has identified the 625 employees “as a precautionary measure,” but he refused to identify them, nor would he reveal what city services might be reduced, eliminated or privatized.

The mayor stressed that he does not want to pull the trigger on the layoffs. He insisted that job cuts will not be necessary if organized labor will “be my partner” on $20 million in work rule changes outlined for labor leaders this week that, Emanuel claimed, are already in place in union shops in the private sector.

But the new mayor said he is prepared to balance the city budget, without furlough days that have undermined employee morale and with or without union help.

“It is not necessary to do the layoffs if you agree to these reforms. If you don’t, that will be the choice left to me on behalf of the taxpayers,” Emanuel said.

“You can employ people and balance the budget. [But] they have to be a partner to do it. I cannot do it without them. If they don’t agree to it, then 625 people and their families will lose that job. And that’s not necessary.”

Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez and Tom Villanova of the Chicago Building Trades Council met with Emanuel Tuesday. They responded to the mayor’s ultimatum with a joint statement of their own that struck a somewhat defiant tone.

In it, they noted that Thursday’s midnight deadline “marks the end of a difficult two-year period of sacrifice” by public employees who swallowed pay cuts to balance the city budget without raising taxes and disrupting essential services.

The labor leaders further noted that, it was former Mayor Richard M. Daley who created the problem by assuming a full-year of union concessions, knowing full well they were due to expire June 30.

“The current ... deficit was not created by city workers. It was created by politicians unilaterally imposing added sacrifices in a complete disregard for the collective bargaining process and disrespect for workers rights,” the statement said.

Noting that there have been “absolutely no negotiations” between the city and labor, the leaders said, “It is unacceptable to assign any cost associated with the expiration of the two-year deal to the current city workforce.”

Ramirez and Villanova said they have hired an “expert municipal budget analyst” to pinpoint ways to save the city money and plan to deliver that report to Emanuel “in the coming weeks.”

“We hope to move forward with a process that respects working men and women and is in the best interest of city residents and taxpayers,” they said.

Lou Phillips, business manager of Laborers Local 1001, could not be reached for comment.

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley left behind a booby trap — and set the stage for a confrontation between Emanuel and organized labor — by balancing the city’s 2011 budget, in part, with savings from unions 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 vowed to end furloughs for the entire city workforce, at a cost of $30 million. He has challenged union leaders, many of whom did not support his mayoral campaign, to come up with alternative savings.

On Tuesday, he met with Ramirez and Villanova to outline the $20 million in cost-saving work rule changes he has identified and issue his ultimatum.

If union leaders whose members have already given plenty agree to make those changes, nobody will be laid off. If they don’t, pink slips will fly.

“You don’t flip a switch and have $30 million. It’s what you accumulate over the six months. I know what the pieces are. I know what we need to do. We’ve been planning for this. Everybody knew. We are ready to move,” the mayor said.

“I want them to be a partner, but I won’t stand still. I’ll take the necessary steps. But my door will always remain open. And they know my cell number and my e-mail in case they have an idea.”

Many city contracts require 30 days notice before layoffs can take place. That means Emanuel is likely to start the process, even though labor leaders insist they need two more weeks to identify their own potential savings.

Asked repeatedly whether layoff notices would be going out at midnight Thursday, Emanuel would only say, “We are collectively as a city on a deadline, and I’m gonna operate accordingly. … I’m not gonna just sit here and wait.”

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.

The City Council is likely to protest further cuts in housekeeping services that are an alderman’s bread and butter. That could force Emanuel to privatize those services, another politically unpopular move.

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 sign off on furloughs: the Teamsters Local 726 and AFSCME Council 31.



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