By Jon Hilkevitch
6:31 PM CDT, September 11, 2013
As many as 70 nonunion CTA employees could lose their jobs in two months under a reorganization prompted largely by the new Ventra fare system, officials said Wednesday.
The cutbacks were announced as the CTA wrestles with ways to close a $10.1 million budget gap in 2013.
"Some people are being laid off," CTA President Forrest Claypool said, explaining that the cuts take aim at redundant and outmoded positions. He cited an example of consolidating two management groups at bus garages into one.
The CTA board voted Wednesday to abolish 149 positions, most of them in management and administration, in a move that will save $13 million a year and create a more efficient operation, officials said. Almost a third of the positions, about 45, are vacant, officials said.
Several positions no longer needed as a result of Ventra, including some related to fare payments, are being phased out, and their duties will be outsourced to private vendors, CTA human resources chief Omar Brown said.
About 40 union members whose jobs are being eliminated will get a chance to switch to different positions, officials said. Thirty-seven of those job cuts are Ventra-related, officials said.
The roughly 70 nonunion employees affected by the cuts will be paid for 60 days and then let go Nov. 11, officials said. But efforts will be made to rehire some of them into soon-to-be-created positions, Brown said.
Thirty-seven new jobs are being created, CTA spokesman Brian Steele said.
The CTA employs 10,264 union and 1,077 nonunion workers.
The belt-tightening comes as the transit agency works to close a $10.1 million budget deficit fueled by miscalculations involving January price increases on all passes.
Sales of multiday passes have been significantly lower than the original estimates as many riders changed how they pay fares and ride the system. CTA ridership is down through August.
The head of the CTA rail workers union reacted to the staffing reshuffle by saying that the number of management jobs has increased at the agency under Claypool. The claim was based on CTA job information that union officials say they received through a Freedom of Information Act request.
"Financial experts who misjudged get to keep their jobs, while others lose theirs," said Robert Kelly, Local 308 president of the Amalgamated Transit Union.
"With experts like this, how many more hardworking people will be let go?"
The staffing reorganization is the second announced under Claypool. In 2011, after Mayor Rahm Emanuel was elected, the CTA said it cut about 200 nonunion positions.
Also Wednesday, Claypool defended the initial rollout of Ventra from criticism that it is rife with problems and that thousands of customers haven't received their Ventra cards yet, despite being told in emails weeks ago that the cards were coming. Ventra's full-scale launch is taking place this week.
"This is the first transit agency in the country that has adopted this state-of-the-art technology, and we are in a transition phase," Claypool said. "There will be glitches and we have said that from the very beginning."
CTA officials did not respond immediately to a reporter's request for detailed information quantifying problems, which include customers' credit card accounts being overcharged for Ventra purchases.
Instead, the CTA said Ventra cards had been used 2.3 million times through Tuesday and that a total of 18,000 Ventra cards were sold Monday and Tuesday.
Officials said all customers who are waiting to receive Ventra cards in the mail should have them by the end of next week. The current transit cards used on CTA and Pace are being phased out through Dec. 15.
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