Last week, it seemed a standoff between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago unions was about to go nuclear.
In a gesture intended to appease union workers, the mayor cut a program initiated under previous mayor Richard M. Daley that required workers to take 24 "furlough days," days in which they were forced to take off work without pay. But in removing the furloughs, Emanuel left a roughly $30 million hole in the budget, equivalent to the amount the city would have saved with those union employees on furloughs.
Suddenly, Emanuel was saying that if the unions wouldn't agree to an undisclosed set of changes he was proposing within a matter of days, he would be forced to lay off more than 600 workers to make up the costs.
Union leaders were caught off guard, saying they'd be proposing their own plans for cuts, but they hadn't heard anything about layoffs and didn't understand the mayor's sudden sense of urgency.
Emanuel ultimately backed down from the threat of immediate layoffs. He made around $20 million in non-union-related cuts to help fill the hole, and is asking unions to work with him on the remaining $11 million.
The mayor spoke to the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday, detailing a few of the changes he's hoping the unions will accept. Among them: a 40-hour work week, instead of 35; time-and-a-half for overtime, instead of double-time; straight time instead of time-and-a-half for starting up vehicles at the beginning of shifts.
He's appealing to the everyday private sector with the changes, as they're ones that he says private workers are used to.
"Those are all examples of things that exist today in the non-public sector that, if you did those, would be millions of dollars in savings and, more importantly to me, potentially hundreds of jobs," he told the Sun-Times. "I'm not asking to do something that doesn't exist already in the workplace all around. The people who are paying the tax bill around here actually live by those rules."
The Chicago Federation of Labor, an umbrella group that represents many of the city's trade unions and that has been negotiating with Emanuel on the cuts, was not immediately available for comment.