Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel summoned the Chicago Federation of Labor leadership to his office Wednesday and handed them an ultimatum: agree to certain “work rule” changes that he says will result in $20 million in savings or face 625 layoffs of public workers. The threat comes as a two-year concession agreement between Daley Administration and organized labor expires.

Understandably, the threat didn’t sit well with labor leaders. In a statement, CFL President Jorge Ramirez said:

The current city budget deficit was not created by city workers. It was created by politicians unilaterally imposing added sacrifices in a complete disregard for the collective bargaining process and disrespect for workers’ rights. It is unacceptable to assign any cost associated with the expiration of the two-year deal to the current city workforce.

There have been absolutely no negotiations between the city and the unions representing the city’s workforce.

In an effort to address the larger structural deficit in the city’s budget, organized labor has been working to identify significant cost savings through efficiencies and best practices on behalf of taxpayers.

Mayor Emanuel has asked for our ideas and the city’s unions have taken his request to heart. We have contracted with an expert municipal budget analyst to identify logical and sound ways to save the city money. We plan to present this report to the Mayor in the coming weeks.

Even if this further concession is agreed to, the $20 million will hardly put a dent in an estimated $500 million city deficit. In any case, it seems like Emanuel expects the working class of the city to bear the brunt for this economic and fiscal crisis.

On the same day, Emanuel touted new jobs creation when he visited a Walgreens store in the South Side African American community. There the chain announced the hiring of 300 workers over the next two years for stores across the city.

In all likelihood, a substantial number of the public workers Emanuel is threatening to lay off are African American and Latino. Swapping unionized workers making decent wages and benefits with low-wage service jobs doesn’t seem to help economic development.

Just the other day, Emanuel’s new Chicago Board of Education rescinded a wage increase for 32,000 CPS teachers and pushed to weaken pensions of state workers in the last state legislative session.

He has the chance to use his voice to speak up for America’s cities and demand massive emergency federal assistance and new federal priorities. Instead, he very publicly decided not to vote on a resolution passed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors calling for a speedy end to the Afghanistan war and redirecting the desperately needed money to our cities.

Instead Emanuel proposed in a speech to cut the tax rate U.S. companies’ pay on profits earned overseas – or “repatriated” – only on the condition the money is “guaranteed” to be used for infrastructure projects.

Instead of demanding corporations pay their taxes and sacrifice some of their profits, he remained silent when the Chicago Mercantile Exchange threatened to leave the state unless their taxes were cut.

He’s also decided to remain silent on renegotiating the privatization of the parking meter deal that handed billions in revenue to Morgan Stanley Bank for a song.

It was reported by Bloomberg:

Chicago drivers will pay a Morgan Stanley-led partnership at least $11.6 billion to park at city meters over the next 75 years, 10 times what Mayor Richard Daley got when he leased the system to investors in 2008.

It’s pretty clear which side Emanuel is on, and it looks like the mayor’s relationship with organized labor and the working people of Chicago will be a rocky one, to say the least.


John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He served as national chair of the Communist Party USA from 2014 to 2019. He is a regular writer for People's World, and active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, Pittsburgh, and Albuquerque and attended Antioch College. He currently lives in Chicago where he is an avid swimmer, cyclist, runner, and dabbler in guitar and occasional singer in a community chorus.