A large crowd, including a number of Occupy Chicago protesters, turned out Thursday evening for the final of three public hearings on the Chicago Transit Authority's 2012 budget at Kennedy-King College on the city's South Side.
The CTA's new budget, unveiled last month, eviscerates a number of labor union work rules in order to avoid both service cutbacks and fare increases. Without union concessions, CTA President Forrest Claypool has threatened that at least 1,000 layoffs, fare hikes and service cuts could be on the horizon as the agency works to close a budget deficit expected to balloon to $277 million by 2012.
One CTA employee at the Thursday hearing called the budget proposed by Claypool "an assault on workers," CBS Chicago reports. Another CTA employee, a veteran bus driver, told the agency's president, "From your career at the Park District, to the Cook County Board, you’ve been a travesty everywhere you’ve been." Still others accused CTA leadership of being messengers for "the one percent," echoing the rallying cry of the Operation Wall Street movement.
The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 241 was also well represented at the hearing. The union has criticized Claypool and Mayor Rahm Emanuel of "demonizing" the city's rail and bus workers.
But Claypool has continued to claim that "archaic and expensive" work rules, increasing pension and health care costs and high rail and bus operator salaries are to blame for the CTA's dire financial straits. He has also claimed that too many CTA employees call in sick, costing an additional $40 million to the agency in 2011 alone.
"I cannot ask our riders to walk farther and pay more until we have gone to our labor partners and ask for reforms," Claypool has said of his call for union concessions, NBC Chicago reports.
At another budget meeting earlier in the week, held at the CTA headquarters in the city's West Loop, Grid Chicago reports that several agency employees were not thrilled with the way Claypool has described them to the media as being "well-paid workers with fancy fringe benefits." Other speakers, including a representative of the Riders for Better Transit campaign, questioned why elected officials were absent from the CTA budget discussion.
The CTA board is expected to vote on the proposed budget in a special meeting Tuesday afternoon.
WATCH Claypool discuss his agency's financial health earlier this year: