Emanuel to lay off hundreds of city workers

July 15, 2011 8:07:21 PM PDT
Mayor Rahm Emanuel says the move to send layoff notices to up to 625 city workers could save Chicago up to $12 million this year.

This is a further strain in the relations between the mayor and unions for city workers.

Friday's layoff announcement set the stage for Mayor Emanuel's first direct confrontation with organized labor. In fact, labor leaders say the mayor is saying one thing publicly and something else in private to them.

"They asked for two additional weeks. That's today," said Emanuel.

While the mayor's public comments have indicated a deadline loomed, an organized labor leader said, privately, Emanuel told the unions they would have as much time as they needed to recommend alternatives to mass layoffs.

"We let him know that we're asking his representatives if that's a hard and fast deadline and got no indication that it was," said Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez.

The mayor, facing a $10 million budget shortfall for the rest of this year, wants union contract changes that affect overtime and special pay rates, workweek length, and other on-the-job rules.

"When you start the day you shouldn't start time and a half. When you get overtime, it's time and half, not double time," said Emanuel.

Emanuel said he acted to lay off up to 625 city workers Friday because after two weeks the unions had not responded to his demand.

Ramirez said the mayor had inflamed the city's relationship with organized labor.

"Mayor Emanuel's decision today to lay off these workers and privatize services without really engaging in the process is both perplexing and disappointing to all of us," said Ramirez. "When there's a fire, you don't pour gasoline on it. You pour water on it. We've shared the sacrifice. We're willing to be partners. But this is no way to treat a partner."

The pink-slipped workers are not those who get the largest union paychecks. Many are seasonal street cleaners. Others are janitors at libraries and the airports, call center operators at the Water Department, and white collar workers in the benefits department at City Hall.

The mayor says hiring private companies to do their work will save the city as much as $12 million between now and the end of the year.

"I want you to know that the services of cleaning the airports, cleaning the library, having a better call center, while there will be some job loss, there will also be more efficient services delivered," Emanuel said.

The seasonal workers affected are laid off immediately. Others on the list were given 30 days notice. The mayor said his door remained open to union leaders who could still offer alternatives to layoffs.

But CFL President Ramirez says the mayor will have to contact the individual unions to begin negotiations to change any rules. That process could last well beyond 30 days, and by then, up to 625 workers would be out of work.

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