March 30, 2011

City of Chicago Disputes Inspector General Report Regarding Motor Truck Drivers

Report Shows "Fundamental Lack of Understanding" of Collective Bargaining Agreements; Suggestions Threaten to "Unnecessarily Politicize" Collective Bargaining Process
Mayor's Press Office    312.744.3334

The City of Chicago responded today to the Inspector General Office’s (lGO) report regarding motor truck drivers and the collective bargaining process. ‘The GO report suffers from a fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of collective bargaining, the laws governing union-employer relations, and the dynamics of the negotiation process,” said Eugene L. Munin, City of Chicago Budget Director.

The City stated that the IGO’s recommendations with respect to changes in collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) such as limiting the duration of CBAs, and prohibiting the negotiation of interim agreements, would all severely hamstring the City’s flexibility in negotiations, and its ability to work with the unions to respond to operational needs as they arise. “Had the IGO’s office any substantive knowledge of the contracts or talked to those with knowledge, they would know that COUPE agreements, including Teamsters, do contain contract reopening provisions in several areas,” Munin added.

Munin pointed out that, on the most fundamental level, merely shortening thelength of a contract does not impact the City’s ability to achieve efficiencies.

“The suggestion to track CBA’s along the terms of elected officials would also unnecessarily politicize the union negotiation process. In fact, we think it is a totally irresponsible and naive suggestion that would greatly empower employee unions to push candidates to protect union benefits, instead of protecting taxpayers,” said Munin.

He also said the report completely ignores or is apparently unaware of the numerous gains in collective bargaining the administration has made over the years, with the cooperation of the unions, providing the City with enhanced operational flexibility, and in response to financial pressures on the City’s budget. It also fails to recognize the comprehensive, ongoing analysis that the City’s OBM and operating departments do undertake throughout the negotiation process.

Munin said the “traditional work’ clause, which is referred to in much of the report, is not just common to City CBAs, but is virtually universal in collective bargaining. He said that no marginally-competent union would ever agree to a CBA that did not contain such a clause. The components of what is considered “traditional work” were negotiated in the mid-i 980’s. And as is common in all union agreements — work rules and benefits already been negotiated for by unions are typically not given up without some other compensation — the definition of negotiation.

Even as the GO says that side agreements are not a good idea, they contradict themselves when recognizing that a side agreement was the critically-important vehicle through which the City successfully gained concessions saving Chicago taxpayers $70M through the COUPE agreement, whereby nearly 30 unions agreed to these cost-cutting measures.

“In reality, these side letters do constitute an ‘opening’ of the contract, and any person with institutional knowledge of labor agreements knows that side letters typically benefit management” added Munin. Because of their lack of understanding of the City’s collective bargaining agreements, the IGO fails to recognize the work rule improvements for MTD’s that the City has negotiated to protect taxpayers in the last several years, though both the CBA process and side letters, including:

  • In negotiations for the 2003-2007 CBAs with the Trades (including the Teamsters), the City was able to negotiate a memorandum of agreement affording the City enhanced flexibility in scheduling
    weekend and off-shift work at straight time rates.
  • During the same negotiations, the City was able to negotiate “break-in” rates for MTDs, allowing the City to hire new MTDs at 80% of the regular MTD rate in the first year, and 90% in the second year.
  • MTD’s who have been injured on duty are now brought back to work to drive smaller rodent control vehicles (rather than being paid to stay at home), freeing other drivers to drive the larger equipment