City workers may have to take unpaid leave

July 29, 2008 4:25:41 PM PDT
A budget crisis is putting the squeeze on employees at Chicago's city hall.The city council finance committee has approved the mayor's plan to furlough non-union employees to help close the deficit.

The Chicago City Council balanced this year's budget by raising taxes $276 million. But city revenues are way down because of the lousy economy. And the cost of government is way up because of the crazy weather. So the Daley administration is looking at a record deficit next year that may exceed $400 million. So the belt-tightening is under way beginning with mandatory furlough days for city workers who don't belong to labor unions.

"I really don't think about it. As opposed to being laid off, I'll take the furlough days," said Dorothy Petty, city employee.

Petty, a clerk at the information desk in the lobby of city hall, is one of the more than 4,000 non-union employees who is being forced to accept two or three unpaid furlough days between now and December to help the Daley administration deal with a budget crisis that, according to the mayor, also requires the cooperation of the labor unions that represent the bulk of the city work force and may have to choose between furlough days and layoffs.

"If you can work this out and you can keep a number of people working, it helps the economy. Let's be realistic," said Mayor Richard Daley.

The plan approved by the city council finance committee Tuesday mandates two unpaid furlough days for employees who make less than $75,000 a year. That'll cost a worker with a $50,000 salary $383.

Managers who make more than $75,000 have to take three unpaid furlough days, which means a $90,000 employee loses nearly $2,100.

Some of the aldermen are taking the hit voluntarily because state law prohibits any mandatory changes in their salaries in the middle of their four-year terms.

"As the leaders, and we're going to ask them for it, and I think we should be taking days as well," said Ald. Emma Mitts, 37th Ward.

Some aldermen say the furlough plan is a PR gimmick that'll barely make a dent in the looming budget crisis.

"If we're in a $400 million deficit, we're only looking at $3.3 million here. Where are we going to make up the other $397 million here? That's the question that we have to be asking ourselves," said Ald. Bob Fioretti, 2nd Ward.

The Daley administration says that virtually everything is on the table to balance next year's budget with the exception of another property tax increase. That is definitely a non-starter. And the mayor is also reluctant to raid the Chicago Skyway fund to pay for day-to-day government services. The furlough plan will cost Daley, who makes $216,000, about $5,000. And his top cop, police Supt. Jody Weis, who is also at the top of the salary chart at $300,000 will be out $7,000.


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