CHICAGO (CBS) — The CTA says it faces a $277 million budget shortfall in the coming year. It won’t say yet that it plans fare hikes or service cuts, but CTA President Forrest Claypool made it clear he’s targeting union work rules.

He called union benefits, pensions and health care “gold-plated,” in remarks to reporters following a meeting of the City Club of Chicago at which he outlined the figures.

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Amalgamated Transit Union Division 308 President Robert Kelly, whose local represents rapid transit employees, said he was “surprised” to learn of the figure from the media and said if Claypool wants rule changes, he should expect to change some CTA practices as well.

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Claypool said that CTA is bound not just by work rules that have been in place 50 or 60 years, but also by equally old arbitrators’ decisions that must be negotiated in order to be changed.

He said one such example is an arbitrator’s ruling that bars CTA from seeking competitive bids from private bus firms to operate some lines at the lowest possible cost. “It’s absolutely prohibited by the collective bargaining agreements based on ancient arbitration rulings,” he said.

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Kelly said CTA policies governing sick leave are anything but gold plated. He said the first two days of an employee’s illness are unpaid. Days three throughs even are at full pay, but he said after that, sick pay drops to $200 a week until the worker returns.

Claypool said he needs union cooperation to try to reduce absenteeism on the job. Kelly conceded that the problem exists.

Over the past four years, Claypool said, CTA has borrowed $554 million to balance its budget. He said its legal borrowing limit has been reached and that he cannot borrow to close the 2012 gap.

He said CTA must look to its unions because sales and real estate transfer tax proceeds have been far below what was expected, even as expenses and pension costs increase.

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CTA last raised its fares in 2009. In February 2010, it imposed an 18 percent cut in bus service and 9 percent on rapid transit lines.