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CTA Set To Vote On Contentious Budget Plan

CTA Bus (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

CTA Bus (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago Transit Authority board is expected to vote Tuesday to approve a budget that holds the line on fares and service for six months — but cold pack a punch down the line.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports, approval is expected despite angry comments from riders and employees at public hearings last week.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports

CTA President Forrest Claypool’s proposed budget does not include any fare hikes or service cuts. But he is calling for changes to union work rules that he says would save $160 million.

He warned, when introducing the budget last month, that whatever the CTA fails to get at the bargaining table or through arbitration will be made up in service cuts and fare hikes — changes that will be twice as drastic because they would come mid-year.

The CTA must close a $277 million 2012 budget shortfall and said it can cut only $117 million without going to its unions.

Claypool last month said arcane union work rules have been “encrusted like barnacles on the system for over three decades.”

Claypool previously has given a series of examples of work rules that he believes should change. He has cited a rule that requires workers from three unions to change flat tires on buses in the field. He said separate crews must now operate within 100 yards of its Skokie Shops, requiring crews bringing trains to the facility to turn them over to another crew.

He has also said sick leave abuse requires CTA to carry more than double the number of spare bus drivers and rapid transit operators that it would otherwise. Most rapid transit systems employ extra operators, a practice known as the “extra board.”

Claypool has as also singled out extra pay given to rapid transit operators at the beginning and end of their shifts, saying that it is a bonus “to show up early.”

Riders said they don’t want another round of fare hikes and service cuts, and employees said that many of the work rules are there for good reasons.

At a budget hearing last week at Kennedy-King College, 19-year CTA employee Tom Sams called the budget plan “an assault on workers.”

“We can sit down at the table and collectively bargain to get some things done, but they need to know that you can’t put the public against the bus operators,” Sams said. “You can’t talk about things that are not true. That’s why the turnout is so great tonight.”

The two sides have yet to begin contract talks. Most CTA union contracts expire Dec. 31. Every CTA contract, with one exception, has ended up in an arbiter’s hands.

Separately Tuesday, the CTA Board is scheduled to vote on a new $450 million fare collection system that would allow riders to pay directly with their debit or credit cards. The CTA says it can save $5 million per year by farming out fare collections to a private company, according to published reports.