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CTA delivers on reducing employee absenteeism

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announces drop rampant ampteeism CTA Tuesday. | Fran Spielman~Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announces a drop in rampant ampteeism at the CTA on Tuesday. | Fran Spielman~Sun-Times

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When you stop for a moment and think about how much the CTA spends to make up for employee absenteeism, it’s pretty astounding.

In 2011 alone, the CTA spent $40 million to make up for employees that didn’t show up for work — many times for good reason, other times not so much.

This week Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CTA officials announced that they expect to cut that figure this year by more than $10 million.

The CTA has accomplished this by tightly enforcing rules on sick time and time off, improving safety training to reduce the number of injuries, going after fraud in injury claims and holding managers accountable for not enforcing the rules.

CTA President Forrest Claypool identified this problem two years ago and deserves credit for following through. This is not a matter of trumpeting an improvement that simply fell in his lap. The CTA worked hard to make this happen.

But the work is unfinished — something the CTA is the first to admit — and may need some tweaking.

In the first six months of 2013, the CTA has seen 72,000 days of work absences. That’s down from 88,000 two years ago but still leaves a lot of shifts unmanned.

Union officials accuse the CTA of taking away the discretion of managers to make legitimate accommodations for workers. CTA officials swat away this complaint, saying there is no uptick in successful grievances and that managers can still be flexible on a case-by-case basis. They say they are not trying to limit their employees’ right to take a legitimate sick day or take off for an injury or family and medical leave.

We hope so. Driving a bus or an L car in Chicago is taxing work and workers need to know that managers have their backs.

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