CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Rahm Emanuel has backed off on a threat to lay off 625 city workers earlier this week, instead going ahead with $20 million in budget cuts that don’t affect union jobs.

Earlier in the week, Emanuel warned of up to 625 city layoffs if labor unions do not agree to cost-saving measures.

But on Friday, he softened his stance and said: “A partner is actually somebody who participates in achieving a common goal, so I’m going to give them the chance. If I acted too quickly, it’s not fair.”

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Referring to layoff notices, Emanuel said, “I’m not going to send those out because it would violate, what I think is the spirit and environment and atmosphere I’m trying to construct where I want labor to be a partner. I understand it’s difficult for them. But I’ll tell you this, it’s not as difficult as sending out pink slips.”

The $20 million in cuts are in addition to the $75 million the new mayor authorized on his first full day in office. They would come from not filling up to 200 vacant jobs and ordering seven city health clinics to partner with federally-qualified community health centers.

Emanuel argued that the state has a similar partnership and manages to deliver care for $128 per patient, while the city’s costs are $223. Doing the same at the city level has the potential to deliver better care at a fraction of the cost, the mayor said.

Emanuel said Wednesday that unless the city’s union leaders, who quietly ducked in and out of his office on Monday, come to the table with tens of millions of dollars in work reforms and efficiencies.

“I said if we do this, I don’t have to lay off 625 people,” Emanuel said. “I don’t want to.”

A statement from Chicago Federation of Labor leaders Jorge Ramirez and Tom Villanova earlier this week said “organized labor has been working to identify significant cost savings through efficiencies and best practices on behalf of taxpayers. … We plan to present this report to the Mayor in the coming weeks.”

Ramirez has said he’s hired a “expert municipal budget analyst” who needs two more weeks to pinpoint potential cost savings.

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley left behind a fiscal time bomb — and set the stage for a confrontation between his successor and organized labor — by balancing his final budget with what Emanuel calls “smoke and mirrors.” It anticipates a full-year of savings from unions concessions not yet negotiated.

At midnight Thursday, an agreement expired that required unionized city employees to take the equivalent of 24 unpaid furlough days each year and substitute comp time for cash overtime.

Emanuel has called furloughs a morale killer that did not produce the anticipated savings. He has ended them for the entire city workforce, at a cost of $30 million, and challenged union leaders to come up with alternative savings.

The Chicago Sun-Times contributed to this report, via the Sun-Times Media Wire

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