CFL News
October 11, 2011

Clock ticking on sick time at CTA

Staffing cuts, work-rule changes could save $22 million

Source: Chicago Tribune

By Jon Hilkevitch

The CTA will tighten sick time and vacation policies for nonunion employees and cut about 150 more upper-management positions as transit officials wrestle with the prospect of fare increases and service reductions to bring down a $277 million deficit for next year.

The administrative staffing cuts announced Monday, coming on top of 51 senior management jobs slashed in July, will save about $22 million annually, officials said.

The sick time and vacation leave changes will reduce costs by an estimated $15 million over six years, officials said.

But even as CTA President Forrest Claypool pointed to a leaner structure resulting in one manager on average for every 21 front-line employees, the cuts still leave the agency with a gaping budget hole to resolve.

Claypool said that because union workers represent 90 percent of the CTA workforce, "we need the union leadership to come to the table to give us common-sense work-rule reforms ... to preserve service, preserve jobs and take the pressure off of fares."

All the changes announced Monday affect only nonunion employees. Sick and vacation-time rules for union employees are dictated by collective-bargaining agreements.

Unscheduled time off taken by nonunion CTA employees in 2010 averaged four days for each of 1,131 employees, CTA officials said, adding that it cost the agency $1.8 million.

Unscheduled time off taken by unionized CTA workers this year will average 19 days per employee, according to CTA projections that put the loss at $40 million annually.

"That's a huge amount of bus and rail service. That's more than the last fare hike the CTA had in 2009,'' Claypool said. He said the CTA must get rid of "'Alice in Wonderland' work rules that pay people to do nothing."

The Tribune reported last week that the CTA suffers from a massive absenteeism problem that results in some bus and train runs being canceled. That's despite the CTA staffing a large contingent of backup bus and train operators to fill in for workers who call in sick or take unscheduled time off.

Under the new changes to the sick time and holiday leave policies, floating holidays and birthday and employment-date anniversary days off will be eliminated for nonunion workers, CTA officials said. Instead, employees will be allowed four paid personal days each year compared with the current six floating holidays allowed.

Nonunion employees will also be able to earn up to 13 sick days per year with a maximum accrual of sick time of 26 days. This replaces a policy of six months of sick leave.

The president of the CTA rail workers union said his membership would be pleased to receive the benefits that nonunion employees will enjoy even under the rollbacks.

"Claypool is going to change their sick leave policy so they can receive up to 13 sick days a year? I say give us 13 sick days a year. We get none," said Robert Kelly, president of Local 308 of the Amalgamated Transit Union.

Kelly has complained that Claypool is negotiating in the news media to try to lead public opinion against CTA unions and force organized labor to accept unfair concessions when talks begin over a new contract. The current contract expires this year.

The union offered proposals in July that would save the CTA between $5 and $10 million a year, but management rejected it, Kelly said.

Kelly said he received the first positive sign on Monday when Claypool sent him a letter requesting direct talks on proposed work-rule changes that the CTA wants to implement to improve efficiency and reduce overtime pay.

"I am willing to sit down with him and do anything possible to solve the problems," Kelly said. "But the mother lode of savings is not going to come from the unions, not at $277 million."