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Sun-Times demands budget cuts

Friday, Jun 19, 2020 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Sun-Times editorial about the state and the city’s budget woes

What is less certain — but should not be — is that union contracts for public employees will have to be reopened to reduce costs. Every possible solution to the current crisis must be on the table, including a reconsideration of a host of contract provisions.
Union should take the lead

It is, as we see it, wholly in the interest of the unions to join in this effort. The finances of the state and city were unsustainable even before the pandemic. Now they are close to collapsing, threatening the very existence of those good union jobs and pensions.

By joining in this effort, the unions would be in a position to shape negotiations in ways that work best for their members. They might reasonably insist, for example, that a big portion of any savings from contract changes be put toward paying down pension obligations.

And while we’ve heard the argument that reworking union contracts wouldn’t make a dent in the financial problems of the state and the city, we’re not so sure. Let’s see how scalpel-like revisions in dozens of contracts add up.

The editorial board then goes on to make suggestions for over $100 million in cuts for the city, plus doing away with all state and local government pay raises for a year.

* Chicago Federation of Labor President Bob Reiter responded

The Sun-Times is just as wrong in its divisive attempt to frame the issue as “union versus non-union” We need to come together to combat COVID-19, not be pitted against one another. And workers need a strong voice through their unions now, when workplace health and safety is literally a matter of life and death.

Instead of standing up for working people at this crucial moment, the Sun-Times board presents this crisis as an opportunity for employers to unilaterally reopen contracts and impose changes. This could set a dangerous precedent that may erode workers’ rights in countless ways, even after the pandemic passes.

The labor movement, especially public sector unions, have worked closely with the city, county, and state for years to recommend and implement cost-saving measures. We will continue to find ways to provide the services the public needs as efficiently as possible.

But this isn’t the time for cuts that prolong the crisis and degrade the services we all depend on. Instead, let’s work together to ensure passage of the HEROES Act, and take the necessary steps to protect and strengthen our city, county, and state for the long term.

According to the Illinois Policy Institute, 59,600 government employees have been laid off since the crisis began.


  1. - Grandson of Man - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 10:44 am:

    Katrina almost fainted from glee, for her lifelong goal of cutting public employees.

    Public employees are way at the back of the line as far as those who need to be cut. The wealthiest have been taxed at the state rate as everyone else for decades. Farmers got a free massive federal handout for the disastrous decision many of them made by voting for Trump. That’s the “consequence“ they are facing for their poor life choice. Corporations got a 40% federal tax cut, which tremendously benefits those who are already super-wealthy and have been raking in money before the cut. The federal income tax rate was also cut for the highest incomes. The estate tax exemption was doubled for the wealthiest by Trump and Republicans.

  2. - bowwow - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 10:44 am:

    State employees went 4 years without a raise under Rauner. A small raise under Pritzker. A lot of people I know with years of experience are debating whether they should retire. This would push them over the edge because they get annual COLAs after retirement.

  3. - JB13 - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 10:51 am:

    #AllInIllinois, amirite?

  4. - Candy Dogood - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 10:53 am:

    Laying off a government employee doesn’t really end the outlay from government for their salary, it just shifts where it falls on the overall government balance book and all we lose is the service those employees were providing.

    If a municipality lays off an employee, they claim unemployment which they are entitled to do, will receive their standard benefits, plus the Pandemic Aid which would annualized at $2,600 a month and from case to case “we” as the in all of us through all of our governments might not actually be saving that much, but losing a lot depending on what duties those employees had.

    This math is why it would have been handy for congress to take action to more deliberately assist with state and local government obligations.

    ===union contracts for public employees will have to be reopened to reduce costs.===

    The door might have been shut on this possibility when the State of Illinois opted to let Bruce Rauner withhold pay raises while simultaneously providing no cost of living adjustments. There were no across the board salary increases from 2014 through the beginning of 2020.

    The state has already tremendously benefited from this “cost saving” measure. The State of Illinois has benefited tremendously from Tier 2 pensions.

    Reopening contracts would be a mistake. Our public employees aren’t our piggy bank.

  5. - Quibbler - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 11:04 am:

    Okay, sure. Let’s start with the cops. They’re 40% of the city budget, accounting for $4 million in spending per day. You’ll reach the $100 million in savings the Sun-Times wants in just 25 days.

  6. - the Edge - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 11:14 am:

    The proposed cuts by the ed bd seem reasonable such as not having 2 people assigned to a garbage truck when it is commonplace in the burbs with private contractors having only 1 staff per truck. The same is true for fire engine staffing with Chicago having 1 more staffing than what is commonplace in suburban forces.

  7. - Doug Funnie - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 11:16 am:

    This piece was put forth only to attack labor.

    Reduce the state work force? In a state with one of the smallest public sector work forces per cap? we’ve really been carrying the fat since Quinn.

    Eliminate the “traditional work,” clauses, which is 1) not a mandatory subject of bargaining, and 2) uses as an example something that the city has already been able to substantially reduce in terms of driver costs through part timers and seasonal.

    Reduce the City’s preventative maintenance crews to an emergency skeleton crew, outsource (which has never been shown to be less expensive to the tax payer) and deal only with wholesale repairs? Penny wise and pound foolish.

    Reduce the light duty work for employees in emergency services and let them draw disability from our less than funded retirement plans. There is enough to go around.

    The government is going to do what it has done, threaten layoffs, take furloughs, and try to mitigate long term costs.

    If the intent is to further discussion on potential reductions please vet those ideas before printing 120,000 copies and smugly claiming superiority without the responsibility of reality.

  8. - Sir Reel - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 11:32 am:

    Instead of just cutting our way to fiscal stability, or just raising taxes on the wealthy and businesses, it makes sense to do both, spreading the sacrifice. This means opening the contracts.

    City and State revenues are tanking. Unlike the federal government, cities and states can’t deficit their way out of this.

    All solutions need to be on the table.

  9. - West Sider - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 11:32 am:


    Walk a Chicago alley on garbage day, before you say that. Things may of necessity, change - but Streets and San is a hard- sometimes brutally hard job.

  10. - Grandson of Man - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 11:37 am:

    Bruce Rauner withhold pay raises while simultaneously providing no cost of living adjustments“

    While his income skyrocketed to hundreds of millions of dollars. Not one word of outrage, as I recall, from the usual interests calling for cuts to public employees.

    State and local budgets, and public employees, need a federal bailout, given the pandemic and all we’ve done to help those who need help the least.

  11. - OpentoDiscussion - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 11:45 am:

    The state has increased many program over even recent years. Yet the Sun Times attacks union employees.

    Very selective and reveals their true agenda.

  12. - Thinker - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 11:52 am:

    Can we all just admit the obvious now? Everyone will have to pay higher taxes in IL, even assuming the progressive tax passes. IL voters (through their elected officials) have been playing kick the can for decades and Covid is the fence line. Sorry kids, you can kick no further. Time to drop the game, grow up, face reality, and start paying your bills.

  13. - thoughts matter - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 12:12 pm:

    from the article:

    ==To minimize the threat of layoffs and furloughs, Pritzker and Lightfoot should take one step that is obvious — stop hiring and allow natural attrition to reduce the workforce over a few years — and a second step that is less obvious — offer early retirement deals. Shuffle the remaining workers around to do the most necessary jobs.==

    I don’t know about the City of Chicago, but natural attrition has been going on quite a while at the state. We’ve shuffled around all the people we can.
    I mentioned a need for an early retirement offer a couple weeks ago due to the Covid-19 virus, and RNUG responded with all the reasons why there shouldn’t be one.
    He was correct, except for the fact that not all retirees have 20 years in to get the full discounted health insurance.
    So I don’t think this comment in the article was all that helpful.

    To me, the article is just another one in a line of thinking that employees are of no value.

  14. - Lester Holt’s Mustache - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 12:34 pm:

    They edited out a paragraph:

    “Three cheers for public sector workers, many of whom continued to go to work everyday, risking the health of themselves and their families during the worst of the Covid-19 crisis. Now that the worst has passed and reopening begins, we call on elected officials to show their appreciation to these dedicated public servants by severely reducing the overall workforce, cutting pay of those few that are retained and eliminating all pensions. Thanks to their hard work, they are no longer necessary.”

  15. - Norseman - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 12:42 pm:

    Criticism for not doing things because of insufficient staffing, cries to decrease staffing because government costs money. Typical darn if you do, darn if you don’t. Anyone really question why things are screwed up.

  16. - Evanston - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 12:51 pm:

    I would rather take some furlough days over no raises any day. A furlough at least gives both parties a benefit compared to no raises. The Sun-times is barking up the wrong tree if they think that no raises are better then furlough days

  17. - Mason born - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 1:16 pm:

    I’m pretty sure the Sun Times defaults to this for just about every crisis. That said a temporary defferel on raises for a year would likely help the state weather this hopefully temporary budget hit. Granted the Governor should also agree to hold any increased fees that were scheduled to go up.

    All that said it should be negotiated with the union and I’m not sure how willing the union would be.

    I’d say the governor not doing layoffs during the shutdown should buy him some good will but I don’t know.

  18. - Candy Dogood - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 1:22 pm:

    ===I would rather take some furlough days over no raises any day===

    Furlough days if taken all at once also qualify for unemployment benefits, which again as I noted above is just shifting where the public expense is carried from one ledger to another.


    ===Shuffle the remaining workers around to do the most necessary jobs===

    I really enjoy how this implies that there’s little specialization within the government and ignores the concept of a professional civil service, like the author(s) just think that public employees are running around doing odd jobs.

    I don’t know if anyone else here recalls just a handful of months ago when we were discussing the number of children that our Department of Children and Family Services fails to protect when we were discussing how when adjusted for inflation they’re operating with about half of the budget they had two decades ago?

  19. - Honeybear - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 1:29 pm:

    Kinda surprised at Sun Times.
    Oh well
    No permanent enemies
    No permanent friends
    Only permanent interests

    I wouldn’t go down this path if I were the Pritzker administration.

  20. - Pelonski - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 1:34 pm:

    You can always ask the unions to renegotiate pay increases, but you have to give up something to get something. The question is, what are the governments willing to give up?

  21. - James the Intolerant - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 1:37 pm:

    It would be great to reduce minimum manning on fire trucks from 5 to 4, but it is a union negotiated item (thanks again RMD), so you can talk about it all you want but it is not happening.

  22. - Donnie Elgin - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 1:43 pm:

    This would have never happened under the ownership of Chicago Federation of Labor and former Chicago alderman Edwin Eisendrath

  23. - Rich Miller - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 1:44 pm:

    ===This would have never happened under the ownership of Chicago Federation of Labor ===

    CFL is still a part owner.

  24. - Perrid - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 1:47 pm:

    I feel like I’m in a madhouse. I want to scream. The first and second most “obvious” solutions they are putting forth are 1)a hiring freeze and 2) early retirement. MOST AGENCIES CAN BARELY FUNCTION AS IT IS, AND YOU WANT TO DOWNSIZE THEM? And early retirement means they will collect their pension for longer, and compound it more. It LITERALLY COSTS THE STATE MORE FOR EMPLOYEES TO RETIRE EARLY. Why do you think the retirement age was raised for Tier 2? So people would collect a pension for a few fewer years before kicking the bucket.

  25. - Demoralized - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 2:27 pm:

    The unions just settled their contracts with the state. They aren’t going to open them back up. Move along

  26. - Donnie Elgin - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 2:29 pm:

    “The unions just settled their contracts with the state. They aren’t going to open them back up. Move along”

    Thats pre-pandemic talk

  27. - Logical Thinker - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 3:02 pm:

    Attack the message and the messenger. Here’s the reality: we’re broke. And there is no pot of magic money to raid. And even if the progressive tax passes, it won’t be enough.

    The day of reckoning has arrived.

  28. - Great paper - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 3:05 pm:

    Love the Sun Times

  29. - Iron - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 3:26 pm:

    No mention of the billions Illinois spends on illegals

  30. - Medvale School for the Gifted - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 3:46 pm:

    The Sun-Times neglects to include school teachers and school administrators as lay-off candidates.

  31. - Rich Miller - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 3:53 pm:

    ===neglects to include school teachers===

    As someone who’s been in a couple of online tussles with the CTU this month, I can’t really blame them. lol

  32. - All This - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 4:31 pm:

    == No mention of the billions Illinois spends on illegals.==
    What? This isn’t true, so why would Sun Times mention it?

  33. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 4:35 pm:

    === I really enjoy how this implies that there’s little specialization within the government and ignores the concept of a professional civil service, like the author(s) just think that public employees are running around doing odd jobs.===
    It’s amazing isn’t it? Yet a look at the Illinois jobs website will reveal that most jobs require a college degree and some professional experience.
    Except for tavern decoy. You only have to be 18- 20.

  34. - 17% Solution - Friday, Jun 19, 20 @ 4:40 pm:

    == Walk a Chicago alley on garbage day, before you say that. Things may of necessity, change - but Streets and San is a hard- sometimes brutally hard job.==
    No kidding. Also the suburbs charge extra for large items like couches. The Chicago garbage men pick it up no problem. Maybe Chicago should charge extra too.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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