CHICAGO — Chicago's police and firefighter unions resolved to keep an open mind on Mayor Rahm Emanuel's 2013 budget proposal released Wednesday given their ongoing contract talks, but said that he was "treading water" on staffing levels.
Emanuel boasted of 457 new recruits for the Chicago Police Department by the end of this year and improved promotions, adding that in 2013 the department will hold its first sergeant's exam in six years. He resolved to keep the department "at full strength at all times."
Yet Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields countered that the department loses approximately 500 officers to retirement annually, so it's just "treading water."
"It's a numbers game," Shields said. "They're playing it."
Elsewhere in his budget address Wednesday, Emanuel called for labor reforms. He pointed to concessions made by other city labor unions, adding, "I am asking every union leader to follow the lead ... to come to the table with their own, concrete, actionable plan and ideas on how we can reform work rules, achieve savings and make the city's workforce more competitive."
He projected $200 million in potential savings over the next decade through such agreements.
Both the Fraternal Order of Police and Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 are in ongoing contract talks with the city. Both resolve not to negotiate in the media.
Yet Emanuel's 2013 budget calls for nominal increases in funding for the Police Department, from $1.33 billion to $1.34 billion, while spending for the Fire Department drops slightly to $564 million.
That wouldn't seem to suggest wiggle room for substantial raises, but that didn't seem to rankle the firefighters.
"There's not a whole lot in there on us," said Tim O'Brien, director of public relations for the firefighters' union. "I think we'll find out a little bit more as we go on."
O'Brien added firefighters don't feel as understaffed as the police department.
"We're not really as far behind as they are," O'Brien said. "We're close to full staff."
He added that, like all city residents, firefighters cheered the addition of the new recruits.
Both Shields and O'Brien were confident new contracts will get done, but Shields added that the $700 million pension shortfall for police and firefighters coming in 2014 is very real and demands action, not just requests for reforms in Springfield.
"Today the mayor reiterated it's not his problem, and that's just wrong," Shields said.