With scarcely any discussion, the CTA board on Tuesday approved a $1.24 billion budget for 2012 that presumes no fare hikes, service cuts or employee layoffs based on management achieving unprecedented work-rule concessions from labor unions.
CTA President Forrest Claypool characterized the budget as “the responsible thing to do’’ to protect riders from a repeat of fare hikes in 2009 or service cuts last year.
But Claypool would be forced to backtrack on his pledge to avoid higher fares and less service if the Amalgamated Transit Union refuses to accept, as union leaders have so far, wide-ranging labor reforms totaling $80 million in savings in the second half of next year and $160 million in 2013.
Only one CTA board member questioned Claypool’s high-risk strategy to count on upcoming labor negotiations, which could drag on for months or even years, as the solution to the CTA’s 2012 budget crisis.
“So what’s the plan if that doesn’t play out?’’ board member John Bouman asked at Tuesday’s meeting.
“We would have to revisit this at that time,’’ responded Paul Volpe, CTA vice president of budget and capital finance.
“In the future, that’s $160 million annually?’’ Bouman asked, as the other board members sat silently.
“That’s right,’’ Volpe said, at which point the discussion was over and the budget was approved.
The CTA faces a $277 million 2012 budget deficit. Claypool plans to wipe out the shortfall through $117 million in cuts in non-union positions and management belt-tightening, and close the rest of the gap with anticipated work rule changes, health care reform and strict limits on salary increases, he said.
Union leaders, embittered by what they consider a litany of false statements by Claypool regarding alleged worker abuses that he said cost the transit agency millions of dollars each year, said management’s demand for concessions is a non-starter.
“You have made it very clear that your real agenda is to make your employees the scapegoat,’’ Robert Kelly, president of the union’s Local 308, which represents CTA rail workers, wrote in a letter to Claypool on Tuesday that began: “Put up or shut up!’’
But after Tuesday’s CTA board meeting, Kelly said he will take a poll of his membership next week to determine whether there is support for compromise. The current union contract expires Dec. 31.
Following weeks of attacks and counter-attacks waged through the media, CTA and union officials met this week to establish ground rules for negotiations on a new collective-bargaining agreement, Claypool said. No date has been set for actual negotiations.
In other business, the CTA board approved an agreement to implement a new fare-collection system that gives CTA customers the option to pay with credit cards, debit cards, mobile phones or pre-paid cards.
As the Tribune reported in Tuesday print editions and on line, the new system will start in 2013 or 2014. It is designed to make paying fares more convenient for customers while saving the CTA an estimated $5 million a year by turning over fare-handling functions to third parties. The CTA awarded a $454 million contract to Cubic Transportation Systems, which will implement and manage the new fare technology, officials said.
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