City reduces scheduled layoffs

CHICAGO They have agreed to drop their opposition to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's plan for a partial shutdown of city government around the holidays.

Buyouts, furloughs and reverse privatization are all part of agreements the city reached with over three dozen labor unions.

The city of Chicago is $469 million in the red. Layoffs were announced last month as a way to shore up the budget deficit. City officials and union leaders have been working for weeks to hammer out a deal.

As city workers do their job, their union bosses have been working behind the scenes with City Hall to save jobs. Facing the worst budget crisis in years, Mayor Daley originally announced nearly 1,000 layoffs. But now that number is going down.

"By working together with organized labor, I am pleased today to announce we've reached agreements that can reduce the number of layoffs by more than 145," said Paul Volpe, City of Chicago chief financial officer.

Some jobs are being saved by reverse privatization. Once considered a way to save money, the city is now taking some water department work away from private contractors and giving it back to city employees.

"Our first choice is always to work with our in-house work force. If we can keep those costs down and be innovative in the way we deliver those services, we're glad to do it," said Volpe.

And several jobs are being saved by agreeing to furlough days. Chicago Federation of Labor's Dennis Gannon says taking days off without pay beats losing a job, especially in this economy.

"It goes against the grain with what organized labor is about, but at the end of the day, it means the families we represent have food on their tables," Gannon said.

And the laborers union, which represents thousand of employees, including garbage men and women, agreed to an additional furlough day in exchange for a bigger severance payment for employees with 10 or more years of service who volunteer to leave.

"I talked to a number of our members, and our members said if it came to saving jobs they wouldn't mind taking a furlough day," said Lou Phillips, Laborers Union Local 1001.

While 34 unions have come to an agreement with the city, one remains a hold out. Leaders with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees say the sticking point are those furlough days.

"It amounts to both a reduction in services for residents as well as a pay cut to some of the lowest paid city employees. We're just not going to roll over and accept that," said Anders Lindall, AFSCME Local 31.

AFSCME continues to work with the city to come up with a deal, but so far, the union will not budge on the furlough days.

The layoff numbers are likely go down even more depending on how many union employees take buyouts and what kind of deal is struck with AFSCME. The city council plans to vote of Mayor Daley's 2009 budget proposal on Wednesday.

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