CFL News
October 17, 2011

Sun-Times analysis: Who will be hit by Emanuel’s 517 layoffs?

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has talked about laying off more than 500 city employees and eliminating 776 vacant jobs, but he has not identified them or explained what city services will suffer.

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

By Fran Spielman

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has talked about laying off more than 500 city employees and eliminating 776 vacant jobs, but he has not identified them or explained what city services will suffer.

Now, an analysis by the Chicago Sun-Times and one of the impacted unions shows where the ax will fall — in a way that could slow response time to 911 calls or stretch call takers to the limit, decimate Chicago Public libraries and force dramatic cuts in health and human services.

At the Office of Emergency Management and Communications, where 911 call takers have more than doubled their annual salaries in overtime over the years, the budget calls for 108 layoffs and the elimination of 80 vacancies. Seventy-three of the layoffs are recently fired Loop traffic-control-aides.

The ranks of police dispatchers would be reduced by 45 or 10.3 percent. The number of fire communications operators would drop by 17 or 16.6 percent.

“Management … is saying the wait time for a 911 call will go from one-to-three seconds to ten-to-fifteen seconds, possibly more. This is very disturbing,” said an OEMC employee, who asked to remain anonymous.

Employees have also been told that four of 22 radio repair technicians stand to lose their jobs at a time when radio and data frequencies need to be reprogrammed to comply with a Federal Communications Commission mandate.

“A shortage of techs will cause a delay in abiding by this mandate and also in replacing aging equipment. A failure of the older equipment during an emergency without repair personnel would be catastrophic,” the employee said.

In 2009, more than 60 operators at the 911 center each earned more than $20,000 in overtime pay. One racked up $90,552 in overtime, more than his $77,784 annual salary.

Still, the mayor’s office defended the job cuts, noting that paying overtime “is less expensive than having a full-time staff person” who is not needed year-round.

“Safety remains the top priority, and we will continue to maintain our efficiency,” said Kathleen Strand, a spokeswoman for the city’s Office of Budget and Management.

“We know our historical high volume and peak time and, if we have to provide overtime, it has already been accounted for in the budget.”

As for the FCC deadline, Strand said, “The city is making every effort to meet this mandate and the success of executing an inter-operable communications plan is not directly tied to the number of electrical technicians that will be laid off.”

Emanuel has talked about reducing library hours on Monday and Friday mornings. But, that does not begin to explain the 363 job cuts he has made there.

Sixty librarians, 59 library clerks and all of the remaining “pages” — workers charged with re-shelving books — would be cut.

In 2009, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley laid off 120 library pages, nearly half the complement. When books piled up because there were not enough people to re-stack shelves, Daley was forced to reduce weekday hours to accommodate an “exhausted” and overworked library staff.

Henry Bayer, executive director of AFSCME Council 31, called the Health Department cuts the most devastating of all.

The budget calls for closing six of the city’s 12 mental health clinics, fully funding just two of them and implementing the mayor’s summer plan to have seven city health clinics partner with federally-qualified health centers.

Nearly 200 grant-funded positions would also be cut from the Department of Family and Support Services. The targeted workers serve Chicago’s most vulnerable residents, including domestic violence victims, the elderly, homeless and at-risk youth.

“If you presented this budget to [Republican House Speaker] John Boehner in Congress, he’d pass it in a minute. I hope the City Council won’t,” Bayer said.

“The mayor is cutting into basic services and laying off hundreds of front-line employees who provide those vital services. ... I can only conclude he’s not concerned about providing vital services to people in communities. His total focus seems to be on the business community.”

Strand insisted that the city was “reinvesting $500,000 in enhanced psychiatry services and care coordination” in the consolidated mental health clinics. That’s a move she claimed would provide “improved service at a lower cost.”

“The city will maintain services for those most in need — uninsured patients — but provide the services in a more cost-effective manner. The city will actually be able to increase services provided and save $3 million,” she said, noting that all 3,000 uninsured patients would continue to be served by the city.

As for cuts in the Department of Family and Support Services, Strand noted that the grant-funded positions were eliminated “in direct response to funding cuts that took place earlier this year” at the state and federal levels.