Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel yesterday came out with a surprisingly hardline stance toward organised labour, telling the city’s powerful unions that he will lay off 625 workers if they don’t agree to cost cuts.
Emanuel’s ultimatum comes just one day before a two-year agreement, requiring unionized city employees to take 24 unpaid furlough days, is set to expire. The city’s current budget, passed under former Mayor Richard Daley, only balanced if the savings continued until the end of the calendar year, but Daley failed to negotiate an extension with the unions.
Now, Emanuel must figure out how to trim $30 million from this year’s budget. He has rejected furloughs as “demoralizing”, but said yesterday that he has identified about $20 million in savings through “work rule and workplace reforms and efficiencies,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
Union leaders told the Chicago Sun Times that they would not accept any cost cuts associated with the expiration of the deal tonight. The unions have hired an “expert municipal budget analyst” to come up with an alternative proposal for how the city can save money, which they plan to deliver in the coming weeks.
That may be too late.
“We are collectively as a city on a deadline, and I’m gonna operate accordingly,” Emanuel said Wednesday. “I’m not gonna just sit here and wait.”
He wouldn’t say whether he plans to send the 30-day layoff notices when the deal expires tonight.
The exchange is likely a harbinger for future labour clashes as Emanuel tries to tackle Chicago’s dire financial problems. In the coming months, the administration will have to cut more $650 million to balance the 2012 budget; City Hall unions are an obvious target — employee payroll costs make up 83% of the city’s spending.
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