CHICAGO (CBS) – Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel made hundreds of unannounced visits to CTA stops, local businesses and community groups during the recent campaign.
He continued that practice Thursday by meeting with firefighters who may be asked to consider pension concessions to the city. It’s a touchy issue, but Emanuel earned points for reaching out to the frontline workers.
“We have earned these pensions, we have paid into them from the day we got out first paycheck,” Chicago Firefighters Union President Tom Ryan told CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine. “It’s not like anyone’s giving us anything for free.”
Firefighters don’t pay into Social Security, and their pension will be their only source of income when they retire.
“We are required to play by the rules at all times, and when the rules are changed in the middle of the game, it makes people very angry. It makes people very skeptical,” Ryan said.
In between their routine calls and runs Thursday, the firefighters of Ladder 10 and Engine 4 had a visitor. The mayor-elect spent 40 minutes with them by sitting around a table, drinking coffee and pledged to visit every shift of every firehouse in the city.
“They were very happy for the fact he came out and wanted to talk face-to-face, one-on-one,” Ryan, speaking for the union members, said.
“They said he seemed genuine and that he was looking for cooperative effort between the union and the city and to come to some kind of a solution to the obvious problem that we’re facing right now with the pensions,” he added.
Ryan himself had called to congratulate Emanuel after his victory on Election Day. He and the union had supported Emanuel opponent Gery Chico during the campaign, though the union supported Emanuel as a congressional candidate.
Some of the firefighters Emanuel won over. Others took the attitude of “We’ll believe it when we see it.” But the prevailing feeling seemed to be, as long as what we’ve contributed already is safe, and we’re not asked to do something other city workers aren’t asked to do, let’s talk about it.
Local 2 of the firefighters is one of the toughest bargaining units in the city. If Emanuel can convince them he’s trying to be fair, others may believe him as well.