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Aldermen lock in pre-election labor peace with 21 percent of city workforce

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) has argued that the new contract is too generous "in the context of the real world for our taxpayers." | Sun-Times file photo

Labor peace is now guaranteed through the 2019 mayoral election — at least when it comes to 21 percent of the city’s workforce.

The City Council made certain of it Wednesday by unanimously approving a new five-year contract with nearly three dozen unions representing motor truck drivers, plumbers, laborers and members of the building trades.

Chicago taxpayers will save $12 million a year by 2021, thanks to health care reforms and increased employee contributions tied to the new five-year agreement.

But it’ll still cost the city $12.5 million this year and $57.8 million in the fifth and final year of the agreement. In part, that’s because it guarantees 52 percent of those 7,713 employees the prevailing wage paid to their counterparts in private industry.

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) has argued that the new contract is too generous “in the context of the real world for our taxpayers.” She has warned that aldermen are “setting ourselves up for an enormous ask” from taxpayers who have already paid a heavy price to solve the city’s $30 billion pension crisis.

Even with the prevailing wage intact, Mayor Rahm Emanuel argued otherwise. He called the new deal a “clear break from the past.”

He was referring to the widely criticized 10-year agreement that former Mayor Richard M. Daley cut in 2007 to guarantee labor peace through a 2016 Summer Olympic Games that Chicago didn’t get.

“More importantly, it sets a precedent for the future as we enter into other negotiations that I think will be key for the financial and fiscal stability of the city of Chicago,” he said.

Emanuel said the increase in health care contributions is the first in a decade.

“Dealing with deductibles, co-pays, prescription drugs, salary caps — we will be able to have stable health care costs. Financial stability around an item that used to be the third-biggest item in our budget and rising exponentially at 2.5 times inflation,” the mayor said.

Although negotiations with police and fire unions are certain to be more contentious, the mayor’s City Council floor leader argued that the new deal “helps us significantly in our next round of negotiations with police and fire.”

“We have laid out a map. We have laid out some precedential things that we think will be helpful in informing those negotiations where we still save significantly more money,” said Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th).

Also at Wednesday’s meeting:

• Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1ST) introduced an ordinance that would mandate a liquor license — not B.Y.O.B. — at “adult-use establishments where nude dancing is performed.

• Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) proposed an ordinance that would prohibit “riverwalk venue liquor licensees located east of Michigan Ave. from broadcasting music or offering live music.”

• Emanuel also introduced new 10-year concession agreements that would allow six businesses — providing dining, live entertainment, kayaking cruises, boat rentals and water taxis — to set up shop along the riverwalk between Wells Street and Lake Shore Drive.

• Aldermen empowered private booters roaming free in more than half of Chicago’s 50 wards to raise boot removal fees by $30 in exchange for stiffer regulations.

• The City Council confirmed Streets and Sanitation Commissioner John Tully and signed off on a $41.5 million “design-build” contract that will replace Chicago’s longtime fleet maintenance facility — located on prime and now-sold riverfront land in the North Branch Industrial corridor — with three new facilities. The biggest will be built on the vacant site of the old Kennedy-King College, 210 W. 69th Street.

• Aldermen added $9.3 million to the $111 million mountain of liabilities tied to the Jon Burge torture era.