In every downturn, unions cannibalize their junior membership, throwing them to the dogs. This downturn is no different, except that cuts will be much deeper and far more lasting.

Please consider Laid-off CTA workers upset with unions, management.

Ralph Cleveland says getting a job driving a bus for the Chicago Transit Authority was the best thing that happened to him since moving up North 10 years ago.

“When I came to Chicago in 2000 from Bibb County, Alabama, I was so proud about having a uniform on,” said Cleveland, 56, who started with the CTA almost 6 1/2 years ago. “I stood in the mirror, and I couldn’t believe the Lord had blessed me with that.”

He looked forward to getting up in the morning and going to work at the transit agency’s 77th Street bus garage, then coming home to take care of his wife, who has severe arthritis and other ailments.

But the couple was dealt a serious setback this month when Cleveland became one of 1,059 CTA workers laid off because of CTA service cuts that slashed bus service by 18 percent.

Like many of his former co-workers, Cleveland says his labor union, the Amalgamated Transit Union, has let him and others down, almost abandoned them, to preserve the pay raises and full benefits for almost 7,000 union brothers and sisters with more seniority, who the CTA did not let go.

He has seen larger and larger deductions from his paycheck in recent years for union dues and other union expenses, Cleveland said.

In contrast to his union’s strident opposition to negotiating concessions, Cleveland is willing to take a pay cut if that’s what is needed for him to get behind the wheel again.

“If I could get my job back, that’s what would make me happy, making money for me and my wife, who I love so much, and my grandchildren,” he said. His CTA employee health care benefits were cut off at 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 6, a minute before the service cuts took effect.

CTA officials have called on the agency’s bus and rail unions to make those concessions to help eliminate a $95.6 million budget deficit in 2010. Leaders of the Amalgamated Transit Union have refused to reopen the current contract, which expires at the end of next year.

“I’m willing to make a sacrifice,” said Cleveland, who worries that he won’t have enough money saved up to take his wife back home to Alabama for retirement at some point. “I’ve been making a sacrifice ever since I came into this world.”

“I ain’t looking for handouts or public aid. I wish I could just go back on a bus and pick up people,” he said.

CTA bus driver Vanessa Garrett, who also was laid off, shares the same wish. She recently separated from her husband of 25 years, and she is the sole provider for her large family.

“Everything is on me,” said Garrett, 55. “I would take the furlough days and all the things the CTA is asking for, because the economy is affecting everybody everywhere and it’s a bad time. If the CTA needs to take some things from us, fine, it’s still a very good job.”

Tossed To The Dogs

Union members praise the union until the union bites them in the ass. Ralph Cleveland who would gladly take less to have a job, can’t. Taxpayers and those dependent on bus service are screwed as well. The city itself is screwed. The only ones benefiting from this screwed up relationship are the union members with the most seniority.

If the city needs to cut another 1,000 workers, Ralph Cleveland and other laid off workers will not get to vote. It would not matter if they did. The highest ranking union members with the most seniority will vote to eat the 1,000 members with the least seniority.

Dependability has no bearing. Service record has no bearing. Attitude has no bearing. And most importantly, skills have no bearing. The only thing that has any bearing is how long one has had their union card.

The union does not give a rat’s ass for the likes of Ralph Cleveland or anyone else it tosses to the dogs.

Welcome to the union, Ralph Cleveland. You have just been cannibalized.

Ahead Of The Curve

I have been ahead of the curve on this issue and proud of it. Bloomberg is catching on: Banker Bonus Anger Is Shifting to Government Workers: Joe Mysak

By the way, unfunded obligations of state pension and medical benefits for public union retirees in Illinois is $25,000 per capita. That does not include the obligations of cities and the county. Although Illinois is one of the worst in the country, many other states have horrible liabilities as well.

For more details on just how bad the situation is, please see PEW Study Shows Trillion Dollar State Pension Gap; Can Anything Be Done?

States, unlike the federal government cannot just print the money. The only way those obligations can be met is by massive tax hikes or reduced benefits. I am hoping for the latter. This is a very big issue. I think one of the most important issues the country faces.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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