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No Quick End to CTA Doomsday, More Cuts to Come

By Lindsey Miller in News on Feb 25, 2010 6:40PM

Photo by Angie Naron
While we've been waiting outside in the snow and cold for less-frequent buses, the CTA and the unions are still trying to come to an agreement to end the service cuts and give workers back their jobs. Things are not looking good. And if things weren't already bad enough, they're expected to worsen in the next few days as 99 bus servicers, mechanics, and supervisors will be laid off. The workers were kept on through the end of February to help close the Archer Bus Garage, which is being shut due to cuts. Reassuringly, Darrell Jefferson, the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241 (which represents bus workers), said, "The longer waits [at bus stops] and the longer lines are yet to come."

There's also talk of lawsuits and strikes. The unions and the CTA met yesterday - which they haven't done since the cuts began more than two weeks ago - and agreed only to lobby the state and federal government for more funding. No more talks were scheduled. Instead, the ATU alleged several work-rule violations and plans to file state and federal lawsuits later this week. They're saying that the CTA is violating its agreement with the union by forcing overtime hours or not paying overtime; requiring part-time bus employees to work more than 32 hours per week and sometimes up to16-hour shifts, in violation of their contracts; and neglecting to pay bus drivers for training to learn the routes previously driven by laid-off staff.

Jefferson is also considering holding a strike vote for bus workers on Monday. The train workers wouldn't participate in a possible strike, says Robert Kelly, president of the train workers' union ATU Local 308. The bus workers, he says, have been hit harder by the cuts.

Independently, the Illinois House voted yesterday to limit the free rides for seniors, which would provide the CTA with about $25 million. The CTA budget gap closed by the service cuts and layoffs is $95.6 million. Senior earning less than $27,610 per year or couples earning less than $36,635 per year would still be able to ride for free. Seniors earning more than the low-income cap would pay half fare.

The Regional Transportation Authority, the umbrella organization for Chicago-area public transit, was careful to mention that this won't change anything in terms of service cuts.

"Our message has gotten through to the legislature that this is a program we can't afford when we're facing the serious financial problems that we have," said Stephen Schlickman, executive director of the RTA. "This legislation will not solve our financial difficulties, but it will help us manage our long-term financial situation because in the future this program was only going to cost us more and more as the population ages."