The head of the union representing Chicago Transit Authority rail workers says he doesn't believe union members are completely to blame for CTA budget problems.
CTA president Forrest Claypool said Tuesday that the agency is short $277 million heading into 2012, due to union contracts he said give workers the highest cost-adjusted salaries in the nation.
"I have openly said I will sit down and talk about any and every issue and put it on the table," said ATU Local 308 president Robert Kelly. "Doesn't mean we're going to give it up, but we'll talk about it, we'll see what we can do to help. I understand today's economy, I know it's bad out there. But fighting this in the media is not going to be a winning situation for anybody."
Claypool also criticized the employee absenteeism rates, which he said cost the CTA $40 million in 2011. But Kelly refuted that the number could be that large, and said he was disappointed that he hadn't been told about the CTA's interest in changing work rules.
"We do not deny there is an absenteesm problem, we can't control that," said Kelly. But, "We do not hire people. Chicago Transit Authority hires individuals."
Kelly said he believes he fare hikes are "inevitable"; Claypool wouldn't say whether they should be expected.