By Justin Hegy -
Remember in 2011 when Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he was going to get “deadbeat” city workers to pay up on unpaid parking tickets, fees and fines? Back then, he threated lengthy suspensions or termination. Emanuel scolded workers, stating “the free ride is over for everybody.”
It turns out public unions are making this a lot harder than he may have thought. The Chicago Tribune reported that after the overall outstanding debt city workers owed in fees and fines dipped lower in 2012, it’s now soaring to extraordinary levels again.
When Emanuel announced his crackdown in 2011, city workers owed $3 million in city fines and fees. Flash forward three years, and now 5,584 city employees owe $3.4 million – and this total might even be higher due to how the city is recording payments.
Representatives from Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Transit Authority say bargaining agreements with unions are an enormous obstacle to enforcing Rahm’s plan. One CPS representative says the Chicago Teachers Union contract makes it very hard to collect debt from their employees.
A representative from CTA says that there is no way to discipline or hold workers accountable for such things unless the contract was opened up and rewritten – which is not likely to happen.
Public union contracts often have very rigid rules regarding discipline – making it very hard to enforce even normal work rules – much less something outside-the-box like Emanuel’s plan. The mayor’s plan called for 10-day suspensions for employees owing $250, following a sliding scale up to termination for those with $1,000 owed. Unfortunately for the mayor, this plan is not exactly possible when taking union contracts into account.
For example, Chicago’s school personnel and appointed teachers are covered by the CTU contract, which mandates discipline must be progressive – meaning it must build off prior discipline history. The CTU contract also has “disciplinary steps,” which start with three warnings that would have to be administered before any more serious measures can be taken. On top of all this, the new bargaining agreement with the CTU has eliminated unpaid suspensions, meaning even if a worker ever does get suspended, they still get paid.
If the mayor wanted to enforce his plan he should have had his labor relations staff advise him on actual possibilities, instead of announcing plans that don’t take into account the extreme restrictions imposed by union contracts.
Bottom line: Public unions once again have become an obstacle to preventing waste and making common sense policy changes, with their contracts protecting even workers with extensive city violations.
Justin Hegy is Policy Analyst at the Illinois Policy Institute