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The Emanuel-Labor Faceoff Thus Far

By Staff in News on Aug 8, 2011 2:00PM

After weeks of watching Congress try to address a national deficit in excess of $1 trillion, you could be forgiven for envying Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s task of closing Chicago’s $635.7 million budget shortfall. But unlike the federal government, the city can’t run in the red. Unfortunately for Emanuel, he has to close the gap by the end of fiscal year 2012.

What’s Rahmbo to do? Last year Daley whisked away most of a record $654.7 million deficit largely by raiding the city’s parking meter deal funds and refinancing debt.

Emanuel immediately distanced himself from such “one-time fixes,” launching his plan with an announcement of what he wouldn’t do to fix the city’s budget. Raising taxes (before 2013), dipping further into the city’s nest egg and firing cops are all off the table, he said.

At more than one third of the municipal payroll, police are the city’s biggest manpower cost, as shown in this handy operating budget visualization released by an increasingly digital budget office.

Emanuel is also hesitant to fire outright 54 firemen who fraudulently received more than $100,000 in taxpayer money, because their contracts include a grievance clause that could be used to drag out the process for months, at those same taxpayers’ expense.

Instead the mayor set his sights on other city employees, threatening 625 layoffs if labor unions don’t agree to work-rule changes that he says will save about $20 million. Seasonal cement masons for CDOT agreed to work time-and-a-half for overtime to save six jobs targeted for firing. The city already sent pink slips to half its traffic control aides who make on average about $44,500 a year.

For their part, labor unions shot back with a report that said the city could save $242 million by slimming down middle-management. The report points out that City Hall’s Department of Family and Support Services has one manager for every 1.6 staff members. The faceoff has renewed tension between Emanuel and labor unions, who largely endorsed Gery Chico in this year’s mayoral election.

City revenues in the form of property taxes are down from suburban flight, and ballooning pension costs guarantee a long-term problem even if unions agree to the city hall’s work-rule changes and Emanuel takes a scalpel to middle-management. Economic growth could make the situation a little less grim, but Thursday’s bellyflop in the stock market makes that pretty unlikely.

— Chris Bentley