As CTA service cuts head into their third week, laid-off bus driver George Kopitke said he doesn’t see a solution between management and unions coming any time soon.
"I've got about thirty percent hope left," said Kopitke, 51, who used to drive the 79th Street bus. "Seventy percent of me says it's time to look for another job."
Kopitke was among some 250 CTA bus workers, both employed and laid-off, who attended a rally at Rainbow PUSH Saturday.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said he was reaching out not just to CTA management to help workers, but to state and federal officials to bring more money to public transit.
"Why would you build a new rail system from Chicago to St. Louis without fixing service to 63rd Street?" Jackson asked, referring to a recent $1.1 billion federal grant for higher speed rail in Illinois.
Asked about the impasse at a North Side event Saturday, Mayor Richard M. Daley noted both sides have been discussing the budget problems for three months, but that union members have said "no" to taking unpaid time off and "you have to respect that."
"There’s no money from the state," Daley said. "You don’t want to increase fares. People don’t like that."
Jackson said he believes too much is being asked of workers — that if they gave up a 3.5 percent pay hike and agreed to 10 furlough days, that alone would only bring back 200 of 1,057 laid off workers. The civil rights leader noted workers are also being asked to pay increased health costs and give up holiday pay and paid lunch time.
"We want to work with dignity," Jackson told the cheering crowd. "In slavery days, everybody had a job, but they did not have dignity."
Jackson and the unions hope to meet again with CTA on Tuesday.
CTA spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney said CTA Chairman Terry Peterson is open to meeting, but said no specifics had been arranged.
The CTA on Feb. 7 cut bus service by 18 percent and rail service by 9 percent, as well as laying off workers, to make up a $95.6 million budget deficit. The agency blames the deficit on lower sales and property transfer tax revenues due to the slow economy.
The unions have said CTA should make more cuts in management, by converting some management jobs back to lower-paying union jobs, although Peterson argues union proposals would cost the agency an additional $78.7 million a year, rather than saving money.