January 15, 2019

Thanks to AFSCME members, Chicago 311 is still public and better than ever

AFSCME’s anti-privatization efforts halted the city from outsourcing the non-emergency 311 center in Chicago, paving the way for new and improved services. Now the city-run operation is being hailed as a national model.

On December 19, Mayor Emanuel introduced the revamped call center, which handles all non-emergency calls from citizens seeking help or information, along with a new website and the city’s first-ever mobile app. This will be one of the mayor’s last actions before leaving office, but back in 2015, Mayor Emanuel attempted to privatize the center in his initial budget address.

Chicago’s 311 operators are members of AFSCME Local 654. They led the effort to save 311 from privatization, taking their story to aldermen and the media. Urging the city not to outsource the call center, longtime 311 staff member Debra Powell told reporters that "the mayor should invest in what he already has: knowledgeable, experienced operators who live in the city."

In the wake of AFSCME’s intensive lobbying effort, aldermen started speaking out against the mayor’s plan. When 36 of them signed a letter to Emanuel during the final phase of the budget debate saying that privatization would wipe out jobs and make city government less responsive, the mayor finally dropped his plan to privatize 311.

"Based on the feedback from City Council, we will be not be moving forward with 311 privatization in 2016,” Office of Budget and Management Director Alexandra Holt said at the time. “OBM will work closely with the City Council to identify funding necessary to continue City management of the 311 system.”

Chicago’s 311 call center takes more than three million calls annually and has received many awards and accolades as a leader in performance and innovation. Now, thanks to AFSCME members, there is a bright future for one of Chicago’s most critical public services.

Related News