In the so-called city that works, they are the people who keep do much of the work. But they are also expensive. Personnel costs make up more than 80 percent of the city's budget. That's why labor leaders met for an hour with Mayor Daley on Monday. They are trying to save jobs even if it means mandatory furloughs and pay cuts.
"You're talking about folks taking an 8 percent cut in salary. That's a very difficult thing to ask people. But it's also unconscionable for us as labor leaders to see 1,500 people being laid off at a time when there's no jobs," said Dennis Gannon, president, Chicago Federation of Labor.
The city has already sent more than 1,500 layoff notices. Among the proposed cuts, there are more than 300 Streets and Sanitation workers, nearly 300 police support staff, and nearly 300 more at Water Management.
But union and city leaders say at this point they are optimistic they can work out a deal this week to keep those people working. Several aldermen say they are supporting the city workers.
"This is the worst time to lose your job in over 75 years. So if we can reduce spending collectively as a whole, and we are able to save those layoff that will be a huge sigh of relief," said Ald. Ricardo Munoz, 22nd Ward.
"I think any city worker would tell you they would prefer the furlough days as opposed to seeing fellow workers out on the street," said Ald. Toni Preckwinkle, 4th Ward.
The budget, according to the mayor, is tens of millions of dollars in the red. But some alderman are questioning the city's projections. They say it should never have come to this.
"People know that there's enough money here to make sure our employees are paid well and have a decent wage and they should not have any layoffs at this point. We've got the money out there," said Ald. Bob Fioretti, 2nd Ward.
Mayor Daley will be gone the next couple days for an Olympic presentation in Switzerland. But union leaders say the mayor presented a good enough framework for a deal during their meeting on Monday that they may be able to come to an agreement by working with the mayor's chief of staff.
The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday.