Deadline looms for possible union layoffs

June 30, 2011 (CHICAGO)

The mayor is not backing down.

This early episode in his first term leaves no doubt that Rahm Emanuel plans to be a "strong mayor." He is singlehandedly trying to change city worker union contracts as supportive aldermen cheer from the sidelines.

"The current structure of city government is failing. We can't afford this size government," said 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly.

Reilly says Mayor Rahm Emanuel's ultimatum is more than a passing threat. He says deficit-wracked Chicago, which spends over 80 percent of its money on employees, eventually will have to lay off city workers.

"The fact of the matter is our revenue is not keeping pace with our expenditures," Reilly said. "Our expenditures are directly tied to personnel. So, looking at that equation, we need to look at personnel reduction. Severe cuts in personnel."

The mayor repeated his ultimatum during an online town hall meeting Thursday afternoon. He told the unions: Either agree to work rule changes or face 625 layoffs.

"Of all the options, the last option, the one I don't want to do," Emanuel said.

Chicago Federation of Labor Spokesman Nick Kaleba told ABC7 that "June 30th was never presented as a deadline" and that "we're committed to the process of looking for savings and reform."

"The city's in really bad shape, and we're at a point where we have to make some hard choices and nothing's sacred," said 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell.

"My concern is that we continue to take from the bottom, the ones that are doing the job, day to day," said 30th Ward Alderman Ariel Reboyras.

"The City Council has had no briefing on this subject, and it concerns all of us," said 2nd Ward Alderman Robert Fioretti.

Meanwhile, a report released by the Chicago's Civic Federation Listed 40 ways the city could save money, including reducing the size of city government, reorganizing the police and fire departments, and privatizing Midway Airport.

The federation also applauded Mayor Emanuel's effort to rewrite city worker union contracts.

"The city needs to get lean, it needs to get streamlined and focused on what it can really afford," said Chicago Civic Federation's Laurence Msall.

Mayor Emanuel said he does not expect union recommendations on how to avoid layoffs for another 10 to 14 days. But, the city could mail the 30-day layoff notices as soon as Friday, just in case the mayor and union leaders cannot reach an agreement.

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