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Labor Unrest Growing Under Emanuel Administration

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel appears at a public budget hearing Monday night at Kennedy King College. (CBS)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel appears at a public budget hearing Monday night at Kennedy King College. (CBS)

Jay Levine Jay Levine
Jay Levine is the chief correspondent for CBS 2 Chicago. He joined...
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CHICAGO (CBS) – Mayor Rahm Emanuel is facing a growing tide of discontent from the city’s labor unions.

Fired workers, rejected contract compromises, and unanswered cost-saving ideas all have begun generating protests aimed at City Hall.

CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports that the labor unrest is a cause for concern about the fallout from what Emanuel has called “tough choices” about city and school finances.

Labor leaders have begun planning protests and charging that the mayor’s request for cost-saving ideas is mere lip service – and that their suggestions are being ignored.

On Tuesday, fired city traffic aides were preparing signs for a “read our lips” themed protest scheduled for Wednesday.

Shirley Howard, a traffic aide for 19 years, said that, although the city recently laid off 72 traffic aides, no supervisors lost their jobs.

The traffic aides’ duties, which included traffic control and parking enforcement, have been transferred to part-timers, even though the aides said they agreed to work rule changes to save money.

SEIU Local 73 Secretary-Treasurer Matt Brandon said the union is willing to make concessions and has proposed cost-savings ideas totaling $3.5 million. But he claims the union hasn’t heard any response from the Emanuel administration.

A spokesman for Emanuel’s office said the Office of Emergency Management and Communications – which oversees the traffic aides – has cut $1 million from middle management, though not necessarily traffic supervisors.

Monday night, traffic aides and their union heated up a town hall meeting that Emanuel held to discuss the city budget.

The Chicago Federation of Labor said Tuesday that “nearly three weeks after it provided the city with a cost-savings report … there has been no response from the Emanuel Administration.”

The mayor’s office said he is still considering those proposals.

Other negotiations, with public school teachers, was the his focus before a youth advisory council Tuesday morning; although his Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard admitted he wasn’t even close to getting teachers to sign off on a longer school day.

“We’re going to keep at this until we find common ground, because our kids have been losing for a long time. We can’t keep doing things as we’ve been doing for the past few years,” Brizard said.

Teachers were planing a demonstration on Chicago’s Southeast Side for Wednesday, to protest cancelled raises and Emanuel’s demands for a longer school day.

“CPS did not get into its financial mess by over-paying teachers,” a Chicago Teachers Union spokesman said. “But we are the ones forced to pay for others’ mistakes.”

While no layoffs of teachers are planned, that threat continues for other city employees with 20 homeless outreach workers getting their pink slips on Wednesday.

Emanuel was holding fast to his position that his responsibility is to the taxpayers and claiming the traffic aides weren’t given the choice of layoffs or work-rule changes. He said they were simply fired because the city found a way to do the work for less.

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