Facing mounting political pressure, at least two Cook County commissioners reversed course Thursday and told Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s office that they will take a salary cut to help balance the budget, a source told the Tribune.
Commissioner Robert Steele, D-Chicago, and Joan Murphy, D-Crestwood, informed Preckwinkle aides that they planned to return money that had been deducted previously from their salaries for government shutdown days this year, the source in Preckwinkle’s office said.
During the past several months, the two board members joined Commissioners Earlean Collins, William Beavers, and Deborah Sims in writing letters to the county comptroller asking for their money back instead of taking what officials say would amount to a 4.8 percent pay cut. Commissioners make $85,000 a year.
Those five commissioners were part of a unanimous middle-of-the-night vote in February to approve a county budget that included the unpaid time off. Preckwinkle, who took office in December, struck a deal with most county unions that required a combination of 10 furlough days and government shutdown days.
The agreement was meant to save $29 million from the county's $3.05 billion budget and prevented hundreds of layoffs among the county’s 23,000 employees.
Reached by phone Thursday night, Steele and Murphy each said that they are reconsidering their initial refusal to take unpaid time off of work.
Murphy said she'd met with constituents Thursday and had to explain her position. The meetings led her to reconsider, she said.
"I felt badly because the regular person does not know the background, or the budget, or the reason why I did it,” Murphy said. “My office is a very mistreated budget.”
Steele, who maintained he always planned on taking seven unpaid days off of work this year, said he'd asked for money back from three furlough days as a “personal protest” against Preckwinkle's budget. He said he felt the message had been sent, and he planned to issue a statement Friday morning saying he will take the pay cut.
Beavers indicated Thursday that he will not be changing his mind. The commissioner said he wanted Preckwinkle to keep Oak Forest and Provident hospitals open.
“My thought is that my money was going to keep the hospitals open,” he said. “When they closed the hospitals, my deal was over.”
Sims and Collins could not be reached for comment Thursday.