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CTA abruptly postpones budget as union talks continue

CTA tratravels through Loop. |  Sun-Times files

CTA train travels through the Loop. | Sun-Times files

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Updated: November 15, 2012 6:40PM

The CTA abruptly postponed the unveiling of budget recommendations on Thursday because of ongoing negotiations with the unions representing rail and bus workers.

“Negotiations have been ongoing since very early this morning with ATU, and they believe they’re close enough to continue their talks as we speak. ... They are at the table. They are progressing strong enough that they felt its better to stay at the table than to announce the budget,” said CTA spokesman Brian Steele.

CTA President Forrest Claypool left Wednesday’s board meeting to continue talks with union leaders, Steele said, and he’s been at the table since early Thursday morning.

Robert Kelly, chief of the CTA rail workers union, agreed Thursday that progress is being made: “We are close. I am encouraged. I’m optimistic but we’re not there yet.”

Kelly said a deal could be reached as soon as Thursday night, or Friday morning. But if talks stall, the union will begin arbitration.

The CTA said it could save $80 million and avoid a fare increase by demanding work-rule changes and concessions from both ATU 308 and ATU 241, which represents the CTA’s bus drivers and mechanics. The agency says hikes and service cuts will be linked to whether those concessions are made.

“Clearly a labor agreement will have an impact on the 2013 budget,” Steele said. “...We want to know what our labor costs are going to be looking forward, and if we can do that by waiting a little longer and completing the negotiations, that’s definitely time worth taking.”

Matters with the Amalgamated Transit Union weren’t quite as easy as discussions with the CTA’s construction and maintenance unions, which earlier this month traded cost-cutting work rule changes for a no-layoff guarantee.
Last year Claypool said deep management cuts cut $117 million from a $277 million deficit. He warned that without labor and work rule reforms, the CTA would be forced to lay off up to 1,000 employees, cut bus and rail service and perhaps hike fares.

The last time the CTA raised fares was in 2009, when train fares jumped from $2 to $2.25.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was presiding over the City Council vote on his own budget when the transit agency pulled the plug on its spending plan but afterward he was asked how mass transit riders should read Claypool’s decision to hold off.

“Obviously, he’s in negotiations with one of the labor organizations and, if he postponed it, you could read that multiple ways,” Emanuel said.

“The only indication you can take from that is that he’s in very important discussions with a very important union about the ability to go forward on a budget that achieves our goals, which is to continue to make improvements in the CTA for the commuter and for the city of Chicago.”

The mayor noted that Claypool has made “fundamental changes” to the CTA’s central office to generate millions needed to improve CTA stations, security and the overall passenger experience.

“He’s [also] made a series of labor reforms that allow us to hire more workers and improve the work that gets done at a price taxpayers can afford and on a timely basis,” he said.

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