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Raucous Crowd Protests CTA Budget At Final Hearing

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The crowd seeking to testify -- and protest -- was so big Thursday night at the last of three public hearings on the Chicago Transit Authority's 2012 budget that police had to turn people away from the Kennedy-King College auditorium.

The tone was equally raucous on the sidewalk outside of the auditorium, at 740 W. 63rd St., and inside. On the sidewalk, 19-year CTA employee Tom Sams called CTA President Forrest Claypool's proposed 2012 budget, and the accompanying media campaign, "an assault on workers."

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's Bob Roberts reports


"We can sit down at the table and collectively bargain to get some things done, but they need to know that you can't put the public against the bus operators," Sams said. "You can't talk about things that are not true. That's why the turnout is so great tonight."

Mechanic Carlos Acevedo defended the CTA practice of assigning three workers to replace a flat tire on a bus, saying the tires weigh 235 pounds and the bus being jacked up weighs 10 tons -- far too much for one person to handle.

He said CTA employees "work hard."

Inside, employees and riders alike unloaded on Claypool, who sat silently at the head table next to CTA Board Chairman Terry Peterson.

"From your career at the Park District, to the Cook County Board, you've been a travesty everywhere you've been," said veteran CTA bus driver Michael Baron.

When Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) said he came to support the workers, he drew cheers. But as soon as he said the workers should compromise to keep their jobs, he was shouted down.

Occupy Chicago sympathizers offered their solution in call-and-response fashion, also known as "the human microphone."

Looking at Claypool and Peterson, rider Howard Ehrmann said, "They are messengers, right? Who are they messengers for? The one percent."

Ehrmann and other Occupy Chicago sympathizers went on to say the solution to the CTA's budget problem is simple -- hand the bill to the wealthiest 1 percent as a tax increase.

The CTA board has called a special meeting at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, at which they will vote on the budget, which maintains fares and service until July 1.

Claypool, in introducing the budget, warned that if no contract agreement is in place by then, or if a federal arbitrator fails to mandate $160 million in work rule changes, the CTA will impose fare hikes and service cuts large enough to erase its shortfall, and said he could cut the agency's payroll by more than 1,000 workers.

Claypool last month said arcane union work rules have been "encrusted like barnacles on the system for over three decades."

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