CFL News
January 06, 2012

CTA union chief foresees contract agreement by mid-year

After months of sparring with CTA management, union leaders hope they can reach a fair contract that respects transit workers

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

By Fran Spielman

After months of acrimony and finger-pointing, a CTA union leader predicted Thursday that the mass transit agency and its labor unions would forge an agreement in time for a mid-year deadline.

CTA President Forrest Claypool has agreed to freeze fares and maintain service this year, but only if bus drivers and motormen agree to $80 million in work rule changes by July 1 and double those givebacks in 2013. The union contracts expired on Dec. 31.

The decision to go toe-to-toe with organized labor infuriated CTA unions, who accused Claypool of “lying” about union work rules in an attempt to turn the riding public against the unions.

On Thursday, Robert Kelly, president of the Amalgamated Transit Workers Union Local 308 representing CTA motormen, changed his tune, in part, because Claypool has changed his.

“We had a lunch conversation that went very well. ... We haven’t exchanged proposals yet but, I’m very optimistic we’ll be able to resolve something before the July deadline,” Kelly said.

“I have seen a change in tone by the CTA. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out. He was on the news every other day complaining about our work rules. I was on the news bitching that he shouldn’t be on the news. You haven’t seen that [lately] We’re gonna sit down and try to work things out. I am optimistic.”

Is Kelly ruling out cost-saving work-rule changes, now that the CTA’s labor contracts have expired?

“I didn’t say that. I said I’m optimistic we’ll work out a contract,” he said.

Claypool was uncharacteristically tight-lipped. No more railing about what he called “Alice in Wonderland” work rules that pay CTA employees “millions of dollars to do nothing.”

“We’ve started negotiations. It’s been a productive process so far. We have a lot of work to do. That’s all I can say. I can’t go into details,” he said.

Pressed on whether he believes fare hikes and service cuts can be averted, Claypool said, “We started out with that as a goal. We’re gonna work as closely as we can with our labor partners to reach a fair solution that protects our riders and taxpayers.”

Kelly’s amicable lunch with Claypool and CTA President Terry Peterson occurred three weeks ago. That was followed by a meeting with the CTA’s negotiating team to go over ground rules for the upcoming negotiations. On Jan. 20, the two sides are scheduled to meet again to exchange proposals.

The détente between the CTA and its labor unions may have something to do with the behind-the-scene support that Kelly has received from Chicago Federation Labor President Jorge Ramirez.

Sources said Ramirez fired off a blistering pair of letters to Peterson and Claypool in recent weeks accusing them of creating a “Scott Walker/ Wisconsin-like” confrontation in Chicago that ignores the “drastic sacrifices” that CTA employees have made over the last few years, when 1,000 of their members were laid off.

Ramirez also took his complaints about their negotiating tactics directly to Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“Your tactics suggest you are more concerned with winning a public relations campaign than managing the agency you lead out of a crisis. ... It is devoid of management skill when acting as an administrator legally bound to bargain in good faith,” Ramirez wrote to Claypool on Oct. 25.

“It is unacceptable to pit the riders and general public against the people who provide transportation when there have been no meetings or serious discussions on work rules or other issues you presented to the press. ... I urge you to sit down in good faith with the leadership of the unions … to discuss the current budget deficit and stop attacking workers through the press.”