Chicago libraries now closed on Mondays

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The city’s branch libraries will be closed all day on most Mondays instead of being closed during the morning on most Mondays and Fridays as Mayor Rahm Emanuel originally envisioned.

The change in plans, quietly announced this week, is the result of a stalemate between the city and the union representing library workers. The union has not yet agreed to a schedule that includes working two half-days a week. That setup would require library employees to work an extra day, if not more hours.

“You’re asking people to work six days a week, as opposed to five,” library spokeswoman Ruth Lednicer said.

Library staffing was targeted for cuts under Emanuel’s new budget. As of Monday, 172 library employees were laid off to save more than $3 million. The layoffs mean the system now has enough staff to keep branches open 40 hours a week instead of 48 hours.

The cuts could have been worse. Emanuel, seeking to garner more aldermanic support for his budget last fall, agreed to restore millions of dollars to keep the library system’s more than 70 branches open 48 hours a week when children are not in school. That has not changed, so libraries will be open on Mondays during spring break and the summer when kids are not in class, city officials said.

Talks with the union initiated by the city in mid-December about reducing branch library hours “are still very much underway,” said Anders Lindall, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “We have not refused or foreclosed on any proposal that the city has made.”

Jennifer Hoyle, an Emanuel spokeswoman, confirmed that talks continue, adding that the half-days cannot be implemented without union approval, so the branches will close all day on Mondays for the time being.

Lindall contended the city has enough money to rescind the layoffs and keep the branches open 48 hours a week. He pointed out the administration recently announced it cut spending last year by $8 million more than expected.

“It would take just a sliver of that to reverse the layoffs and reduced hours,” he said.
Lindall called the layoffs and reduced hours “a matter of choice and a matter of priority, and they are driven by one person. That’s the mayor. If he didn’t want this to happen, it wouldn’t happen.”

But Hoyle said the additional savings from last year already are factored into the new budget and thus don’t affect the library layoffs.

Ald. Nicholas Sposato, 36th, one of the most outspoken critics of the library cuts, said he was not happy with the new changes.

“I’m very disappointed in that,” Sposato said. “We need our libraries. It’s one of the free things we have in the city. The seniors need it. The students need it.”

Employees were notified of the Monday closings via e-mail, and the library also announced the change via Facebook and Twitter, Hoyle said.

During budget talks last year, Emanuel frequently emphasized that he was not closing any of the city’s libraries.

Meanwhile, the downtown Harold Washington Library, the Sulzer Regional Library on the North Side and the Woodson Regional Library on the South Side will remain open seven days a week, although only between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Sundays.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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