The union representing staff at Chicago libraries picked up discussions Friday with the city for the first time since the library system announced that it would close all neighborhood branch locations on Mondays for the foreseeable future. The new policy is set to go into effect at the start of the week, although AFSCME Council 31, which represents library staff in Chicago, sent a cease-and-desist letter to city and library officials on Thursday, in an effort to avoid the closings.
The two sides have had ongoing discussions starting several months ago, when Emanuel and the City Council were pondering cuts to the Chicago Public Library’s 2012 budget. According to library spokeswoman Ruth Lednicer, the library suffered $3.3 million in cuts in the final budget, amounting to 181 staff positions. At the time the budget was passed, aldermen and Emanuel said they believed shaving morning hours on Fridays and some Mondays at the neighborhood branches would help ensure full staffing without closing any locations.
“From our perspective, we’d like to reach an agreement that can rescind those layoffs, get the library employees back to work, and avoid any reduction in hours,” said Anders Lindall, spokesman for AFSCME Council 31. Lindall said the union has not agreed to reductions on Mondays and Fridays because it hopes that the cuts will be restored.
On Friday Emanuel said the union’s failure to agree to the original plan has forced the city instead to close all neighborhood branches for one full day a week.
“I didn’t support this, and I don’t want it, and that’s why I came up with and aldermen came up and agreed to a flexible proposal,” said Emanuel. “I expect labor, and that is AFSCME particularly, to help solve this problem. They knew during the budget discussions what we were going to do.”
According to spokeswoman Tarrah Cooper from Emanuel’s office, closing on Monday and Friday mornings would have required union agreement, but closing libraries for full Mondays does not. Lindall said the union’s contract states otherwise.
“They have a duty to inform the union, and to discuss with the union changes in the schedule,” said Lindall, referring to City Hall and library administrators. “It can’t be unilaterally implemented, and we want to meet with them to have those discussions.”
Several Chicago aldermen said they are not happy at the news that branches would now close for another full day, bringing neighborhood locations down to five open days per week.
Nicholas Sposato (36th), said he hopes that the two sides figure out a better solution, too. He says equal blame for the impasse lies with the city.
“It’s just every time there’s some sort of dispute, labor’s always to blame,” said Sposato. “You just see it over and over and over and over that labor this, labor that, labor wouldn’t budge, labor wouldn’t this. I thought labor really budged a lot, took a big enough hit already with these library cuts.”