How Many City Workers Does It Take To Change A Light Bulb?

CHICAGO (CBS) — How many city workers does it take to change a light bulb? Sounds like a joke right? But it’s not funny when it’s our tax dollars being wasted.

John Kapusciarz certainly wasn’t laughing at what he saw outside his window and contacted CBS2 investigator Pam Zekman.

“And the answer was?” Zekman asked.

“Three,” Kapusciarz said. “One to drive the truck, one actually to change the bulb and one to just sit down and do nothing.”

Kapusciarz called the city to report broken street lights in the alley behind the banquet hall he operates. When a city truck arrived to do the work he was stunned at what he saw.

The most annoying thing, Kapusciarz said, was that after they arrived one of the workers “pulls out a chair out of the passenger’s side and he sits down and I’m thinking, ‘What in the world, I’m paying for this,’ and I’m incensed.”

Kapusciarz took pictures with his camera and emailed them to CBS 2.

“It makes me very, very mad, because it’s my money that I’m paying in property taxes,” Kapusciarz said. “Where does this nonsense end?”

For years union rules have hand-cuffed city agencies regarding the number and function of employees assigned to a job site. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been talking about trying to get union concessions to help make things more efficient. It appears that Kapusciarz’s pictures could be exhibit A in that argument.

In this case, the driver, who makes $70,408 a year, only drives to the location. When someone is in the bucket, a second person is required on the ground for safety. They both make $84,968 a year.

Private contractors told CBS 2 it is possible to change light bulbs with a one person crews, something Kapusciarz has seen for himself.

“I saw them doing it over at Walgreens next door,” he said. “One guy, one truck. … It was unbelievable and they were up and down before you knew it.”

Laurence Msall, President of The Civic Federation, checked out Kapusciarz’ photographs and said, “this is an example of inherent inefficiency.”

“You have someone bringing a chair to their work site in anticipation that they’re going to have a lot of dead time,” Msall added.

A Civic Federation report recommends more than $600-million in cuts in order to balance next year’s city budget.

“Mayor Emanuel and organized labor need to come to the table together to recognize the city’s in financial crisis,” Msall said. “We cannot continue to artificially prop up employment just because we’ re inefficient at how we deliver our services.”

Kapusciarz said he believes, “The entire city has been mismanaged for I don’t know how long, because they allow shenanigans like this to go on, and it’s just frustrating, very, very frustrating.”

A spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Transportation said that sitting down and taking a break while on the job is against department guidelines and a further investigation of the matter might result in disciplinary action. He also said the agency is checking the crew’s schedule that day “to make sure the proper levels of productivity were achieved.”

The city spokesman said crews from the division of electrical operations “handle tens of thousands of service calls each year, and the vast majority of crews work very efficiently.”

Since Jan. 1, he said, they have completed over 35,000 311 requests.

A spokesman for the Chicago Federation of Labor said there are no current negotiations with the city to alter union work rules. The current labor contracts do not expire until 2017.

More from Pam Zekman
  • Bobby

    “Mayor Emanuel and organized labor need to come to the table together to recognize the city’s in financial crisis,” Msall said.

    Well, now I guess we know that the union members have plenty of chairs to bring to the table.

  • joanie134

    I’ve been an electrician for 28 years. There is no excuse for the worker having pulled out a chair. This older model snorkel truck requires someone with a CDL drivers license. There are some bucket trucks in the City fleet, which can be driven by someone with a class D license, however they do not have the range in height that the snorkel trucks have. Mr. Kapusciarz likely observed someone in the Walgreens parking lot with a bucket truck. The bucket trucks must be fully extended to reach the lowest level street lighting, they are less stable in windy conditions.

    The snorkel truck in this story was also in a low traffic area. The ground person is responsible for operating the boom remotely, in case of accidental contact with power lines by the operator in the bucket, or other hazards. The ground person is also responsible for setting out traffic safety cones and devices to protect the worker in the bucket. The vast majority of the jobs are in the street with traffic, not in parking lots as depicted in the story. The ground person is also responsible for handling material to do the jobs: lights, ballasts, starters and kits to the person in the bucket doing the work.

    • Bob

      OK Joanie134. You have made a case for this operation needing 2 workers. What of the odd man out? In the real world, people who do the work also drive.

    • Matt

      So, what you are saying is that they sent three guys that would require, at most, two to do? Is there any reason the driver can’t also double as ground crew?

      • joanie134

        The fact that the driver is not an electrician would be a hindrance insofar as knowing the types of material and tools needed for the job. Worker’s switch off as well between working in the bucket and working ground. Many fuse kits are located at the base of the poles and require removal when working on replacing ballasts, starters and kits. A truck driver would not know how to do the work. The overwhelming majority of pole lighting is 480/277 volts. Keep in mind that the majority of street lighting in Chicago is aged, the parking lot where the man seen the bucket working solo is not as old.

      • rc

        I would flip that around without being flipplant and ask: Is there any reason the electrician either in the bucket or on the ground can’t also double as the driver? Some people have professions and are able to drive a car at the same time.

      • joanie134

        You need the snorkel truck to access the higher street lights. They are more stable to work in than the bucket trucks when doing work at heights. The snorkel can accommodate two workers in the bucket, a bucket truck is limited to one.

        The snorkel trucks aren’t automatic vehicles, they are more akin to heavy equipment requiring a CDL drivers license. We cannot legally drive them having a regular class D drivers license. The smaller bucket trucks can be driven by someone with a regular class D drivers license, but they don’t have the height range necessary to reach many of the streetlights.

    • js

      Okay, fine. You need someone on the ground. Well, how about the driver? This is just one more absurd excuse by a union worker. And let’s guess what his coworkers were probably doing….being paid to sit outside and protest a company hiring non-union workers. Just like the rest of us, work for your money.

      • joanie134

        You need two electricians when working on 480 v. We work on signals and lighting as well. A truck driver does not know how to do the work. It takes two trained individuals to troubleshoot circuitry in many applications.

    • James S

      So why can’t one of the electricians also get a CDL certification? That way, there would be one man in the bucket changing the bulb and the other man who drove the truck and also is an electrician, can put out safety cones, change fuses at the base and watch the guy in the bucket? Sounds like a two man operation to me

      • Knowthefactsfirst

        Are you willing to give them the $5000 to go through driving school to get it. You don’t just walk into the DMV and say I want a CDL. Also the written tests may not be that hard, but try getting a CDL Qualify truck to take the Driven.

      • Bob

        Why can’t one of the electricians get a CDL certificate? Because then he would actually have to work the entire time he is on the clock. I am sure they would still demand a wage of over $100K because he would both drive AND do electrical work. Tough job!

      • James s

        Knowthefactsfist- if I was an electrician and one of the job requirements was to maintain a CDL, guess what I would do? I would GET THE LICENSE. Myself. I wouldnt ask others “are you willing to give me $5000 to go through driving school to get it?” Guess what else? I don’t work for a union and I go home every night and “get to see family”. Very week arguments…

  • Skip M. Plonka

    This is just too funny. Perhaps sad is better word.
    I used to work for a local municipality where our ” Light Bulb ” changing guy
    was making around $50,000 a year. He was also in charge of all the maintenance for our Village Hall ” LaGrange ” on top of all the other duties he had as a Utility worker for this Village.

    He also drove his own truck!

    When do you say “Enough is Enough?”

  • cacmoe

    i see nothing wrong pulling out a chair . if this was taken this week im sure it was hot out . Maybe he was taken his lunch and when they where done, the man in the bucket was going to take his.Im also sure this was not the only job for the day. the the rest of the jobs where out in traffic. Not just light bulb . Im more interrested in knowing why are we suppling lights to pirvate parking lot. At the taxs payer expense, year round.

    • jack

      I’m sure just sitting inside the truck would be against some goofy union rule – so why not (snark) make yourself comfortable – oh, wait – isn’t he suppose to help the guy in the bucket – well of course – but resting his big ol’ @ss –

      Hey state workers – this is a great example of what to do to get the pay you think you deserve

      • Knowthefactsfirst

        Jack “ASS”,
        We have rules in place, not only to protect our safety, but to protect us from being pushed around by companies. I like to go home at the end of the day and see family.
        There are rules that the company has to follow and I have to follow in order to do this. As far as what we deserve. When you went looking for a job, did you take the job that paid the least? Everyone is outraged by what we make, but most would not do what we do!!! I will fight for my right to make the most money I can. Because I do Deserve it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Bob

        See, Cacmoe..Knowthefactsfirst set you right. He deserves all that money. And he also deserves all the derision sent the way at government workers by all the chumps that pay his salary. Knowthefactsfirst, you wonder why people hold you in such contempt? Because they actually work for a living, not this faux job stuff. May you be one of the people who loses his job in the budget cuts so you can find out what the real world is like

    • Jaylan

      You are so awesome for helping me solve this msytrey.

  • Cathy

    That’s nothing. When the water department came out to a neighbors house to dig up the box to check for a leak there was one guy digging ( a hole that only one person could fit in)while 7 others stood around and watched. That was a total of two crews and it’s not the first time it happened. We are not talking about a major water main break on a major street here either. And, when the 2nd crew arrived they sat in the truck for almost an hour before getting out of the truck to watch. It just does not look good to those around who are seeing this. Maybe they should use GPS on their trucks. Thats’ pretty much the norm in my neighborhood.

    • catsoman

      One digging and seven watching is only a skeleton crew. There’s usually three times that many. We wouldn’t want to overwork our city employees. They still have to go back to the ward office and collect overtime before the punch out for the day.

  • Nick

    Dear Mayor Emanuel,

    I’m an out of work Electrician and would like to help save the city $160,000 per year.

    I don’t have a CDL but, would be willing to acquire one ASAP!

    I’ve worked in the trade for over 25 years and have plenty of experience.

    I’ve worked in much more dangerous situations than this and would welcome the opportunity to change out these light bulbs, ballasts or anything else for that matter.

    I’ll carry two methods for communication, one for backup and would simply call my supervisor if the lift decided to fail.

    I can easily remember what parts were needed and take them with me in the bucket when I ascend to repair the light fixtures. I’ll set out all of my own safety cones and I’m willing to leave my lawn chairs at home.

    My email address can be acquired by contacting CBS and I will forward my resume, if you are gracious enough to contact me.

    CBS, please feel free to forward my contact information to the new Mayor.

    • Joey

      You can’t even do simple math! That’d be $170,000 a year if you were trying to imply you can replace both electricians.

      • Roger

        It’s probably much more than that Joey, especially with OT

      • Paul

        Righty tighty lefty loosey, Not too much math need there is there?

      • Nick


        Math is NOT you’re specialty, I take it?

        Driver = 70,408
        Electrician = 84,968

        How did you come up with $170,000.00?

        You MUST be a city worker as well.

      • Nick

        Thanks Joey,

        I’ll let the Mayor know of your recommendation and add it to my resume.

      • Joey

        Ok, if you are adding a driver’s and a linesman salary, that would be closer to $!55,000, not $160,000 like you said. Rahm should hire you do looke for some more money for the budget instead since you are so good with numbers.

    • Lyndia

      I heard that Nick. Times are tough.

    • toots

      i’d like to see you working alone, in roseland, on a hot and steamy saturday night with nothing but your two methods for communication while being stuck in a bucket truck.

      • Nick

        Tooty Fruity,

        Not a problem, been there and done that and not just within the electrical field. Actually, my last adventure was near Comer’s Childrens Hospital. I’ve also done work alone, where a security guard was hired to keep an eye on the job site and left abruptly, because he thought the neighborhood was too dangerous when it was getting dark.

        There’s always exceptions to the rules, please don’t lecture me on the bad neighborhoods that YOU are too scared to enter. I’ve NEVER had a problem. other than theft and have actually met some very nice people in these so called bad neighborhoods.

        Another added note and PLEASE don’t try and correct me, because I’m NOT wrong. City workers stick together NO? It wouldn’t take but a call to the local police and have a patrol near by, I’ve seen it done MANY times.

        So, again, if the Mayor wishes to save some dough, please give me an email.

        I’ll even offer to run the whole crew, if need be! I’ve had well over a hundred, under my belt at numerous times.

    • Jeana

      Just what the docotr ordered, thankity you!

  • apylot

    I’ve been a pilot for a major airline for 15 years, spent 4 years and $100k in college and those guys make more money than I do to change light bulbs? Tall about picking the wrong career!

  • Pauly

    Yeah, I usually sit on the back of the truck which looks a little better than sitting on a lawn chair in that photo. I usually take my iPad out and update my facebook page on my so called dead time but then again, a nice day like that I would have took my basketball out of the side bin to work on my ball handling skills. Now that would have been a much more efficient way of killing dead time on the clock. Sitting on a lawn chair when there is nothing to do is just downright unacceptable!

  • Bev Grier

    Half the city workers are not able to do their jobs. We need to bring back testing for non-degee employees. Its seem to take more people to do a multi-task jobs. I think my taxes can be better spent on who can understand and execute the job in which they were hire, There are a few good employees who carried the dead weight. CLEAN HOUSE.! Rham.

    • WatchDoggie

      Rahm is better off starting with all the fat cops that can barely walk so they are relegated to being high paying meter maids. How are those out of shape fat cops suppose to run after fleeing criminals?! They should make the Chicago police stay in relative good shape like they do in Los Angeles and other cities. If the CPD enforce some kind of physical fitness rule, then there will probably be less money wasted on work injuries and insurance provider cost.

      • Cathy

        Rahm should “cut the fat” in the departments where there is obvious excess and use that money to add more police, which we clearly need. Again, when you have one guy digging a hole and there are 7 or 8 others standing around doing nothing but watching, then there is a problem. Then again, it has been going on for so long that I am sure the employees think it’s the norm and that is how it is supposed to be. In this economy where people are losing their jobs left and right you would think they would wake up. So many companies are meeting their demands with less employees.

  • iinoyfb2

    You know it will happen, if it hasn’t happened already.

  • Sam

    Need a story: How many CEO’s does it take to outsource all the good paying jobs?

    • Chris

      Unfortunately for your lame argument and attempt at deflection, the CEO argument has absolutely nothing to do with this. I know it’s the safest canard – just lob out “outsourcing” and “CEO salaries” as a reaction to anything.

      Fact is, this is a government union problem, not a corporate CEO problem. If you can’t distinguish between the two, then you shouldn’t be commenting. The CEO isn’t spending tax dollars to improve his profits, but the city and state are using tax dollars to artificially keep roll numbers up with do-nothing jobs that create or produce nothing, but that cost A LOT. I’d love to make $70k to sit in a lawn chair. How many CEOS are sitting in lawn chairs watching their guys work? None!

      • sam

        How many managerial workers sit down all day everyday?
        The Wall Street boys with their excessive ‘compensation’ packages are the ones who ruined this country not the unions.
        The CEO do spend tax dollars. As a taxpayer I get to subsidize all their anti American labor decisions when the government pays for unemployement checks, prisons, and subsidizes peoples meger paychecks with programs like earned income tax credit.
        As for how many CEO are sitting in lawn chairs watching their guys work? I doubt that many are sitting in their custom made barca loungers watching their illegal aliens mow the lawn of their ‘estate’.. They probably don’t have time- between the country club ‘meetings’ and flying around in their taxpayer subsidized private jets.

  • Tom

    This is nothing new. I’ve seen this going on since I was little kid 40 yrs. ago Everyone just joked about it. We didn’t even know how much they made, we just thought how ridiculous it was to have all those guy’s standing around watching one guy do the actual work. It didn’t matter if they were changing a bulb, digging a hole or picking up the trash. That’s just the way it was.

    If we saw one of our neighbors doing something and some other neighbors or friends watching, we would joke ” what do you work for the city?”

  • tom not too Sharp

    Give Rahm a chance. All city workers are lazy trash.

    • Raymond Prudente

      Rahm assured the electorate that if elected he will eliminate Mr. Burke’s police bodyguards. In fairness Mayor Emanuel is afraid of Mr. Burke but he’s not afraid of the people who elected him. Tom is Sharp and right! Hundred of innocent children are shot/killed in schools, parks, birthday party, outside their homes… and they also need police protection.

    • you're a liar

      did you write this while at work? will you respond to my comment while at work?do you put in a full 8 hours everyday? are you in an air conditioned office, checking your facebook or buying golf clubs on while a cushy chair holds your fat a$$?

  • Nick Thompson

    Chicago is the city with Big Idiots.

  • Raymond Prudente

    If we fail to fight and stop governmental corruption, waste, abuses… we are also to blame. Chicago is facing a massive budget deficit ($654.8 Million) and underfunded pension plans ($23 Billion) would cost man,woman and child more than $11, 934.

    Since 1970 there have been more than 340 convictions of public officials/business people, 40+ city employees in the “Hired Truck” scandal, 21 people in building inspection payoffs, dozens of park district employees, four former governors convicted of corruption…These felon and those who were guilty but not caught have cost Chicago/Illinois taxpayers $500 Million a year. Chicago politics isn’t about helping people its about robbing taxpayers-hard-earned-dollars. It’s time to protest and revolt peacefully now! Enough is Enough!

  • cHIVI

    Drug testing for City employees will open up a whole lot of opportunities for those of us that are clean and could use a high paying job. DRUG TESTS FOR ALL CITY EMPLOYEES ESPECIALLY FOR THOSE WHO CARY GUNS!!!

  • Chivi

    Raymond, you are so right. A no good family member of mine was covficted for asking for bribes after making over $90,000 a year working for the City. They let him keep his pension and he was paid throughout the time that he was going to court and out of work!!! Unbelievable!!

    • Raymond Prudente

      Having worked as shipyard/marine and refinery maintenance electrician for years, installing/fixing light bulbs is moderately easy and requires basic electricity. A senior high school student interested in electrical eng. can be trained and offered summer jobs replacing street lights saving city millions of taxpayers money.

  • Katie

    Maybe the guys who have the Class D driver’s License should go to the DMV and get a CDL. It should be required anyways. Mayor Emanuel is listening. Now is the time to speak up. He will clean up the wasted spending.
    Chicagoans speak up now. Mayor Emanuel is going to make it better, but he needs all of your help.

    • joanie134

      Katie you should look into what is required to get a Commercial Driver’s License. You don’t simply walk into the DMV and ask for one. Truck driving is a separate profession from electrical work. Maybe you should know what you’re talking about before commenting. You need to be a skilled commercial driver for these big rigs. Imagine the liability if inexperienced drivers are turned loose with these vehicles?

      Do you know how to drive a semi, a bus, or hazardous material vehicle? No, I didn’t think so.

      • Roberta Waker

        What about all the ILLEGALS that are driving semis on our roads that don’t have the proper license or insurance? The requirements for truck drivers have changed a lot over the years and not for the better. Its easier to cross the border illegally than it is to get a CDL license, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to get one either. It does take training, but anyone with coordination and common sense should be able to get a CDL IF he/she can pass the test in ENGLISH.

  • GetReal

    Anyone on this post who is crying is just jealous that they didn’t go and secure themselves a job like this

    • Raymond Prudente

      GetReal, are you the one sleeping in the chair? Congratulation for securing a $84,968 job and $10,000 overtime!

      • joanie134

        John Kapusciarz from European Chalet Banquets has made $3000.00 worth of political donations to the following: 23rd Ward Democrats, Jim Laski, and Mike Zalewski. I didn’t have time to research whether or not European Chalet Banquets made any in kind donations to same. Go to the Illinois Board of Elections to look it up.

  • Larry

    $70K to drive a truck? $85K to change a lightbulb and sit in a chaise lounge? This city is in huge trouble. Expect more taxes, red light cameras, building inspections, etc. Any way the city can reach into your pocket so it can keep overpaying these people.


    • Jennifer

      Do you know what electricians do? Its a lot more than changing light bulbs. Do you ever think the guy in the chair was doing something else before this picture was taken? Or maybe they just came from and was going to a more difficult job and did this simple one on the way?

      This story is ridiculously over simplified and I can’t believe no one is outraged at that. CBS and all the commentators need to shut up about stuff they know nothing about.

  • Steve

    Is this really any surprise? I see this everyday in many suburbs as well. In my opinion, the IDOT workers are worse. Watch how many IDOT employees show up for a job and stand around or sit in the truck.

  • Roberta Waker

    Joanie134. While you seem to know a lot, what type of work do you do that you seem to have so much time for comments? Just asking. . .

    • joanie134

      I just had major surgery and am off on unpaid medical leave. I”m a 28 year electrician in the IBEW. I’ll be returning to work in about 6 weeks.

    • WatchDoggie

      134 as in IBEW local 134, inside electricians. Joanie probably get the same paid as the IBEW local 9 guys that got busted in this article except Joanie gets to sit inside in air conditioned building in the city and do nothing for that same salary.

      • toots

        so you’re angry because the union fights for fair wages? i never understood that argument. instead of being angry/jealous, why don’t you point the finger at your CEO who is underpaying you?

    • jane

      lol. 1:22 in the afternoon and you’re asking this question? does your office manager know you’re perusing the internet?

  • Ry

    Jeez – to some extent I would expect some laziness from the city workers. After all, they don’t have administrators that have to worry about selling widgets or keeping subscribers happy to secure capital. All they have to do is simply exist, and cash all our checks.

    But can you imagine the inefficiency that must be going on behind closed doors if these guys are brazen enough to be sitting on lawn chairs and having 6 guys standing around a guy digging a hole in full public view? What do you think goes on in the Fleet yards and the administrator buildings and all the other places these guys have to hide? I wonder how often these guys clock each other in and out. I wonder how many thousands in BS overtime are clocked every year.

    To be honest, I don’t really care if a guy gets an easy job where he gets to sit around a lot. I just don’t think those guys should be making 75-85k a year! Most people in the private sector have to work their butts off to make that kind of money.

    I grew up on the NW Side, so I’ve always been around a lot of city workers growing up. When Rahm released the salary figures, I was really astonished to see what these guys made, especially seeing what kind of jokers they all are. Must be nice…..

  • tom stepanek

    How many CBS employees did it take to report this story? Four, five more…? One to take the phone call, one to decide if its worthy of reporting, one to actually give it the OK, one to write the story, one to approve the written story (mostly likely an attorney at $250,000 per year), one to decide what time and medium to place the story in and so on and so on. Excess is everywhere.

    • sam

      I’m sure most of them are sitting around all day too. Except when they get up to go sit at a restaurant for lunch, and then get up to go sit in their eurotrash car a drive to their house in the suburbs.
      I also wonder how long they followed these guys around, they re-write this ‘news story’ at least two times a year. Makes me wonder if they wait until one of the guys take lunch and then takes the picture.
      Notice the news crew never cover anything on third shift, guess that wouldn’t be a cushy assignment.

    • Ry

      You guys are missing the point entirely.

      This story is not about “excess”, but government excess.

      Allow me to illustrate: CBS can do whatever it wants with all it’s money. It is a company operating in the PRIVATE sector.

      What would happen if CBS were to hire not one attorney to look over the Zekman story, but 10 lawyers? And paid them each $10,000 to check over it? The 10 lawyers would be really happy to have made such easy money and CBS, if it continues to make decisions like that, would probably go bankrupt and cease to exist before long, right? The only people who would cry would be the CBS employees who all lost their jobs.

      What happens when the City wastes too much money? It doesn’t just go out of business. It raises taxes and devises other ways to squeeze revenue from it’s citizens. I think that much should be pretty clear.

      All the rest of us can do is hope Rahm grows a pair and cleans this garbage up. It’s about time for the rest of us to get a break for once, not these jags making a doctor’s salary to change lightbulbs all day.

      Tel you what: fire 1 guy out of every one of those 3-man crews and you’ll make me happy. Teach the driver how to put the freakin cones down and pick out the right light bulbs and the other doofus can ride up and down in the bucket all day.

  • Mayor Dodges Question About City Work Rules For Changing Light Bulbs « CBS Chicago

    […] Banquet hall operator John Kapusciarz wasn’t laughing when he saw a crew of three city workers changing light bulbs in an alley behind his business. He took pictures and sent CBS 2 an email asking “How many city of Chicago employees does it take t… […]

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