Chicago Transit Authority officials today abruptly postponed release of the agency’s 2013 budget after they apparently made some last-minute progress in contract bargaining with CTA’s two main operating unions.

As of earlier this week, talks between two locals of the Amalgamated Transit Union appeared to be stalled, and CTA officials were threatening layoff — about 400 layoffs, according to one source who would know. But something apparently changed in the last day or two.

“Negotiations have been ongoing since early this morning, and have progressed far enough. We want to see if we can stay at the bargaining table and make more progress,” CTA spokesman Ryan Steele said. “Things were moving in a positive direction.”

CTA President Forrest Claypool balanced this year’s budget on the expectation that the unions would agree to $160 million a year in work-rule concessions. Those have not occurred, and it will be extremely difficult to balance next year’s budget without a fare hike if progress is not made with unions.

Reaching a deal with ATU also could allow the CTA to avoid shifting much-needed capital funds into operations. The CTA has done so several years in a row, taking advantage of a loophole in federal law, but the shift raises CTA’s costs in the long run by forcing it to postpone badly needed maintenance and the rehab of decades-old vehicles, as well as century-old elevated structure.

Mr. Steele said he did not know when the budget would be released.


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