A pair of Chicago aldermen on Tuesday called on city library workers to give up pay raises so branch libraries can stay open six days a week.
The proposal came in a letter from Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, longtime chairman of the Finance Committee, and Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd, vice chairman of the Budget Committee.
“We think the public would be surprised to know — as we were — that all city AFSCME employees are receiving a 3.5 percent pay increase in 2012,” Burke and Reilly wrote in a letter to American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 Executive Director Henry Bayer. Noting the tough economic times, the aldermen calculated the cost of the raises at $1.6 million.
The money instead could be used to restore jobs to 120 of the 176 employees who were recently laid off, the aldermen wrote. That, in turn, would allow the city to keep libraries open on Monday afternoons, as called for in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s budget. No union agreement was reached on that plan, however, so branch libraries are now closed Mondays.
“We strongly urge you and your members to put on hold the pay raise for AFSCME library employees which, it should be noted, is one of the largest of any public employee pay raises,” they wrote.
Burke and Reilly said in their letter that AFSCME has suggested rolling back a planned phase-out of the city’s so-called head tax on jobs at larger employers to reverse the layoffs. They called the phase-out “essential to economic growth and job creation throughout Chicago.”
The aldermen’s defense of a “corporate tax giveaway while suggesting that working folks take a pay cut is out of step with most people’s values,” fired back AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall. “Why should the men and women who make our libraries run bear the funding shortfall alone?”
The letter was sent to the union just hours after AFSCME Local 1215, which represents the library workers, filed a grievance with the Chicago Public Library that seeks to force the city to reopen branches six full days a week.
The grievance contends employees weren’t given proper notice before the city started the Monday closings at more than 70 branches across the city this week. The union seeks to restore the 48-hour a week schedule under which libraries were open Monday through Saturday.
Emanuel spokeswoman Jennifer Hoyle said the city believes it gave appropriate notice. Employees were informed Jan. 4 via e-mail, and the union received an official notice on Friday, when it also met with city officials to discuss the issue.
Meanwhile, Emanuel administration officials continue try to convince AFSCME to convert to a 40-hour a week schedule that would keep the libraries open six days a week, but only for four hours on Mondays and Fridays. City officials outlined that plan during budget negotiations last year, making it clear AFSCME would have to agree because of its contract with the city.
During city discussions with AFSCME, which began in mid-December, the union has pushed to restore the 48-hour week and reverse layoffs. The union also continues its effort to stave off closings of mental health clinics.
Emanuel this week accused AFSCME of using “libraries as a bargaining chip for something else,” going on to suggest they wanted to link other issues. He urged the union to accept the revised six-day schedule and “remember that the libraries are about our communities, our children, and our residents.”
Lindall declined to discuss what was being discussed during union-city talks, but also said it’s no secret AFSCME is concerned about the planned closings of half of the city’s mental-health clinics.
“Clearly, it’s a matter of priorities,” Lindall said, contending the city can easily come up with the $3.3 million to keep the 48-hour weekly schedule and rehire 139 part-time pages and 37 full-time clerks. “What we have not seen from the city is a proposal to prevent reduced hours. That’s our goal. That’s what our grievance makes clear.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun