Emanuel to unions: Accept reforms or face layoffs

June 29, 2011 2:53:42 PM PDT
In an effort to cut a $30 million deficit, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is offering the city's labor unions some tough choices. Workers can either agree to work-rule concessions or face layoffs.

Emanuel toured a South Side Walgreens store to announce that the chain will add 600 jobs in Chicago. Later, during his news conference, Emanuel said more than 600 public sector jobs are at risk if city employee unions do not agree to reforms in their work rules.

"If we do this, I don't have to layoff 625 people," said Emanuel.

Emanuel says the city faces a $30 million shortfall in this year's budget because former Mayor Richard M. Daley incorrectly assumed that his successor would re-negotiate continued furlough days for city workers. The current furlough agreement expires Thursday at midnight and Emanuel has told the unions he would rather save money with work-rule reforms.

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

The mayor would not say what work rules he wanted changed. That, he says, will be the subject of negotiations.

The City Council, which approved the last union contracts, has not had an official role in the talks.

"It's horrible. You don't want to see people lose their jobs, but at the same time you have to understand the fiscal side of it," said Alderman Michelle Harris, 8th Ward.

The Chicago Federation of Labor issued a statement Wednesday afternoon disputing Emanuel's claim that negotiations had been under way for weeks. The CFL also promised to suggest other ways the city could save money. "We plan to present this report to the mayor in the coming weeks," the union said.

But Emanuel indicated that if he did not get an agreement as soon as Thursday night he could begin the process of laying off workers as soon as Friday.

"I'm not just going to sit here and wait. I'll make certain decisions," he said.

The mayor cannot send workers home on Friday. The union contract requires 30 days notice before a city worker can be laid off. It is possible that layoff notices could be postmarked as early as Friday. The unions would still have a month or so to save those jobs with an agreement with the mayor's office.

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