CTA labor deal may avert fare hikes

Jobs and WorkplaceChicago Transit AuthorityBudgets and BudgetingForrest ClaypoolRahm EmanuelMetraRobert Kelly

The CTA signed a tentative labor contract Monday with its largest union, producing millions in savings that the agency's financial experts were analyzing into the night before a decision is made to table possible fare hikes next year, officials said.

CTA President Forrest Claypool last week delayed release of his proposed 2013 budget after sudden progress in contract negotiations that started almost a year ago and had stalled until recently, officials said.

Next year's budget might be released as early as Tuesday, officials said, and the labor accord appeared to ease a looming budget crisis.

The collective bargaining agreement reached with the Amalgamated Transit Union, after negotiations that extended through the weekend, includes some of the work-rule changes that CTA officials had insisted were necessary to make its operations more efficient and less costly.

For instance, the bus and rail union locals conceded to cuts in holiday overtime pay, a streamlined grievance process to deal with challenges to work-rule violations and slower wage growth for new employees, CTA spokesman Brian Steele said.

The new labor pact also incorporates a stronger approach to preventive health care for workers, which will help lower costs, he said.

"Having certainty of labor costs moving forward clearly benefits the agency," Steele said.

In turn, if the tentative contract is ratified by union membership, more than 7,000 CTA bus and train operators, customer assistants and administrative workers will get annual wage increases over the four-year agreement, said Javier Perez Jr., an ATU international vice president who represents CTA bus drivers and mechanics. He did not say how much the raises would be.

There will also be a 5 percent reduction in split shifts, an unpopular arrangement under which the workday is divided into sections and workers have unpaid time off in the middle, Perez said.

For the first time, most part-time bus drivers and temporary rail flagmen will be able to choose their work schedules, officials said.

"There are improvements in quality-of-life issues that affect a good portion of our members," Perez said. He described the wage increases as "fair, given the economy and in view of things happening across the city."

Claypool had warned that fare increases and service cuts would be inevitable this past summer if the union did not give in to his call to negotiate away labor rules that have been in place for decades.

The CTA faced a $277 million deficit in its 2012 operating budget. The agency had planned to eliminate the red ink through internal belt-tightening and reductions in management and administrative staff, as well as work-rule changes for unionized employees that were projected to save the transit agency $80 million this year and $160 million in 2013.

But Claypool said he later found "one-time savings" to fill the budget hole and prevent the fare hikes and service cuts this year. He said such savings would not be available in 2013 to bail out the agency.

The last CTA fare hike was in 2009. Metra raised fares this year by an average of almost 30 percent, and it will raise the price of 10-ride tickets in 2013.

The new CTA agreement represents the first negotiated deal in years, officials said. All recent contracts were the result of binding arbitration.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the agreement "will allow CTA to continue to provide high-quality services for Chicagoans."

Robert Kelly, president of the rail workers union local, said the next step should involve "boosting morale and instilling pride" among CTA rank-and-file employees.

jhilkevitch@tribune.com

Twitter: @jhilkevitch

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