Lightfoot seeking $200 million in savings from organized labor

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot has asked organized labor to help her achieve $200 million in savings — either through layoffs, pay cuts, furlough days or a combination of the three, City Hall sources said Tuesday.

Some of the savings — but not all of it — could be achieved by eliminating 847 sworn vacancies and more than 200 civilian openings in the Chicago Police Department.

But, any plan to eliminate police vacancies is certain to face stiff resistance from the City Council at a time when homicides and shootings are up 50% from last year and officers are being pulled from neighborhood districts to patrol downtown.

More likely is a cost-cutting plan eliminating some police vacancies, but retaining others.

That means achieving the mayor’s $200 million savings benchmark likely will require the layoffs she has tried desperately to avoid or a shared sacrifice plan including furlough days or pay cuts for all city employees.

Chicago Federation of Labor President Bob Reiter could not be reached for comment on the $200 million savings figure. The CFL has an ownership stake in the Chicago Sun-Times.

In a text message, Reiter said, “Not commenting on a specific amount. However, Chicago’s unions continue to identify efficiencies to help protect city services.”

AFSCME Council 31 spokesman Anders Lindall refused to comment on the $200 million figure.

Lindall would say only that union leaders “have offered to work with the city to find savings that would not require layoffs or furloughs” and are awaiting the city’s response.

“That should be the mutual objective of both the city and the unions as we all wait to see if the city will receive more federal aid,” he said.

Earlier this week, Reiter told the Sun-Times top mayoral aides “want to be able to save a certain amount of money,” but he refused to reveal the figure. He also said it was “sort of open-ended on how that can happen.”

“No, ‘either-do-this-or-that-happens’ type of situation. They have not made an ultimatum. It’s not them saying, `This is what’s gonna happen.’ Both sides are trying to figure out where we can find cost-savings, Reiter said.

In 2011, the Chicago Federation of Labor served up a smorgasbord of ways to cut the city budget by $242 million — eliminating redundant layers of middle management, improving efficiency and having city employees do work currently doled out to politically-connected contractors.

Conspicuously absent from that list presented to then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel were the work-rule changes Emanuel had demanded to avert 625 layoffs.

Instead, the report prepared by Pennsylvania-based Public Works focused on labor’s longstanding beef that City Hall has been quick to farm out work formerly done by city employees and too slow to eliminate unnecessary layers of supervisors, many of them earning six-figure salaries.

Reiter has said the ideas labor is pushing now are similar to the suggestions made then to “improve the way the city delivers services and maximize their ability to cut costs without impacting essential workers.”

So far, the city’s 33,000-employee workforce has escaped the pain endured by private sector employees who have seen their hours cut and paychecks shrunk if they’re lucky enough to have jobs at all.

In a statement released Tuesday, Budget Director Susie Park reiterated that cannot continue.

“As we face an unprecedented challenge in the face of COVID-19, the Mayor has repeatedly said that we have to face some very hard and painful choices, and that all potential solutions must be considered including personnel actions,” Park was quoted as saying.

“While we continue to engage with our partners in organized labor, no final decisions have been made on the mix of potential personnel actions.”

Chicago faces a record $1.2 billion shortfall in next year’s budget, $783 million of it revenue lost to the coronavirus. The rest is rising pension payments and what remains of the city’s structural deficit.

Lightfoot has argued the “seismic disruption” of Chicago’s economy is so great, her “pandemic” budget can be balanced only with replacement revenues from Washington, concessions from city unions and new revenues that just might include a dreaded property tax increase. But President Trump on Tuesday afternoon called off any further talks on a stimulus package until after the election.

The mayor has said repeatedly the last thing she wants to do in the middle of a pandemic is to order either layoffs or “morale-killing” furlough days. But she has argued that the financial crisis is so great, no option can be taken off the table.

She can only hope Congress comes through with another stimulus package, including replacement revenues for cities and states devastated by the coronavirus to ease some of the sacrifice that will be required.

Shortly after taking office, Emanuel had an early confrontation with organized labor he came to regret.

He demanded work-rule changes to replace 625 layoffs. Labor leaders who did not support his candidacy stood their ground, forcing layoffs.

The strident tone of that early standoff ultimately gave way to collaboration — on wellness, McCormick Place reforms and on managed competition between city employees and private contractors that has saved the city millions in recycling costs.

The union representing garbage-collection workers also agreed to cut the pay of new hires and cross-train them so they can be moved around based on the city’s changing needs.

Lightfoot, by contrast, has had a good working relationship with labor with the notable exception of the Chicago Teachers Union. She would like to keep it that way. Which is why she has given labor a $200 million target to meet without dictating how to get there.

via Chicago Sun-Times

October 6, 2020 at 04:19PM

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