Labor peace is now locked in at the CTA through the 2019 mayoral and aldermanic election.
The Chicago Transit Authority board made certain of it Wednesday by signing off on a new four-year agreement that guarantees CTA bus drivers, motormen and mechanics a 9.5 percent pay raise, with 5 percent of it retroactive to Jan. 1, 2016. The average retroactive paycheck will be $3,500.
Equally important to the roughly 9,000 members of the Amalgamated Transit Workers Union Locals 241 and 308 is the freeze on health care contributions during the course of a contract that expires on Dec. 31, 2019.
CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. insisted Wednesday that the cost of the agreement — $45 million for increased wages alone — would not force the CTA to raise fares again or cut service. Instead, the added labor costs will be covered by “internal cost savings and efficiencies”–on top of the $23 million in cuts already included in the 2018 budget.
Last fall, the CTA board raised fares — the cost of single bus and rail rides went up by 25 cents — to cover a $33 million shortfall.
“CTA’s got money. The money doesn’t dry up. The money doesn’t disappear. It’s all a matter of where the money is going to be moved,” said Local 308 President Ken Franklin.
Keith Hill, newly elected president of Local 241, called the health care freeze his “No. 1” objective going in and the “major feat” he accomplished.
“We just held our guns to it. … Health care is so uncertain in today’s world—and it’s rising. It’s eating up the middle-class paycheck. The only way that we could see anything was to” freeze employee contributions, he said.
A “no-layoff” guarantee will be extended to all employees hired before 2010, instead of those hired before 2008. That guarantees job protection to 83 percent of the CTA’s unionized workforce, instead of 60 percent.
Hill also highlighted a provision allowing employees to pick more than 46 hours in a work week as giving “senior people the chance to go back to controlling their life vs. the company controlling their life with their work schedules.”
“When I drive, I like to pick the same run every day. That gets me familiar with the customers. I can give better customer service, which attracts more people to the bus. But, restrictions they had on the amount of hours we could pick made it difficult for a senior person to stay on a route five-days-a-week,” he said.
“We got that back to where that person can now pick straight across. It reduces accidents, gets us familiar with the customers and we can deliver better service. On the flip side, the operator gets quality of life because he can pick something with consistency and there’s no restrictions on what he can pick.”
Franklin said the contract was ratified by 75 percent of his members, primarily because, “We didn’t give up anything. We didn’t swap any contractual benefits we had in the past….We got a freeze, if you will, on the health care for two years. That gives me time to prepare a different health care argument.”
The four-year contract was the product of 24 months of bargaining, followed by some stern advice from an arbitrator who reviewed the CTA’s “final proposal,” Franklin said.
“He warned us that this isn’t a bad deal and he doesn’t know if he could do better and, if we go through a full-blown arbitration, they’re gonna get some things and we’re gonna get some things. So, we took where we were to the membership,” Franklin said.
The freeze in health care contributions is a marked contrast to the deal Mayor Rahm Emanuel cut with 34 city unions representing motor truck drivers, plumbers, laborers and members of the building trades.
That agreement includes a 1.5 percent increase in employee health insurance premiums by 2020, a $75 prescription deductible by 2021 and a phased-in increase in the so-called “healthcare premium salary cap” from $90,000 to $130,000.
It’s expected to save Chicago taxpayers $12 million a year by 2021. On the day the City Council approved the trade union agreement, Emanuel called it a blueprint for other city unions.
Still, CTA spokesman Brian Steele portrayed maintaining the current level of employee health care contributions as a “very important outcome” for the CTA because it helps hold the line on costs and provides “budget certainty” that will allow the CTA to “maintain the current level of bus and rail service.”