IL:We Won't Raise Fares Unless...CTA's Warning; Union Asked to Take Big Concessions to Close Budget Gap

CTA passengers will enjoy frozen fares and see no service cuts next year under a budget proposed Wednesday by agency president Forrest Claypool - but only if union workers agree to major changes to their work rules and pay deals.

Setting the stage for another battle between Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration and the unions, Claypool revealed plans to close more than a quarter of a billion dollar budget shortfall by cutting bureaucracy, changing what he called "antiquated" work rules, reining in pay increases and reforming health-care benefits. If successful, the plans would freeze the cost of a one-way cash ticket at $2.25, make good on a pledge Emanuel made in April and prevent a repeat of 2010's hefty service cuts.

But if a deal can't be reached by July 1, up to 1,000 union jobs could be eliminated, bus and train services would be severely cut and fare increases are possible, CTA officials say. Union officials Wednesday accused Claypool and Emanuel of cynically pitting passengers against workers and putting cuts "on our backs." But Claypool said CTA workers are among the best-paid big city transit workers in the nation, guaranteed "generous" 3.5 percent annual pay increases even as the recession bit. CTA's crippling habit of borrowing cash and using funds meant for improvements to crumbling infrastructure for day-to-day operations needs to stop, he said. But systematic underfunding from the federal and state governments and the economic downturn mean the 2012 CTA budget is $66 million or 5 percent smaller than the 2011 budget, he added, even as rail ridership increased by 3.7 percent.

Management cuts will save $117 million, but another $160 million will have to be found in union concessions, he said. He repeated his gripe that "outdated" work rules written into contracts with the Amalgamated Transit Union and other unions were open to abuse by "a significant minority" of workers. They included a rule requiring drivers be paid for a "15 minute coffee time" at the start of their shift, a deal allowing those who lose their driving licenses following a DUI conviction to be paid for six months while they try to win their licenses back, a paid 20-minute toilet break for workers and a requirement that three workers from three unions be employed to change a single bus wheel, he said.

"I cannot in good conscience ask our customers to dig into their pockets for more fares or ask our customers to wait longer, walk farther or stand longer on our cars, buses and trains until we have gone to our labor partners and negotiated for fundamental reform of work rules that benefit so few and cost so much," Claypool added.

ATU Local 308 President Robert Kelly led an outraged union response, calling Claypool's examples "misleading." He said drivers have 10 minutes at the start of their shift to check the safety of their vehicle. Drivers who lose their licenses are reassigned while they try to get their licenses back, he said, describing dealing with Claypool and his team as "like dealing with Republicans." He disputed Claypool's claim that CTA workers have an absentee rate 2 1/2 times the national average and pointed to the unions' refusal to make concessions last year, even when it cost 1,057 jobs, as proof that members will not easily be cowed.

CTA Chairman Terry Peterson said he expected that workers will realize times have changed since those layoffs, however. They came after Gov. Pat Quinn brokered a state borrowing deal in 2009 that froze fares until Dec. 31 of this year, when the union contracts also lapse. The state still owes the CTA $102.7 million and is five months behind in payments, officials said.

Claypool's comments came after Metra announced a proposed 20 percent hike in one-way fares, a move expected to drive more commuters to the CTA. His tactics echo those Emanuel unsuccessfully used with city worker unions this summer to try to avoid layoffs. Speaking earlier this month, ATU international President Larry Hanley said he found it "incredible that Rahm Emanuel, who personally made $18 million in two years trading his influence in the industry that has brought our nation to financial collapse, is now saying that people who work on the tracks and in buses and subways should not be allowed to go the bathroom. Does Rahm take himself off the clock when he uses the urinal - or is he just using bus drivers and train workers as urinals?" Emanuel promised in April to hold the line on fares.

Contributing: Fran Spielman

Loading