When the Chicago Public Library announced via Facebook that nearly all branches would be closed Monday, it raised a few eyebrows. After all, there was a big, public battle before Mayor Rahm Emanuel's budget was passed about changing library hours rather than closing branches on certain days... and wasn't this resolved already?
Apparently, it was not. And Emanuel wants angry aldermen and residents to know that it's not his fault. On Monday, the mayor told the Chicago Sun-Times that the union representing library employees has blocked the schedule change -- forcing Emanuel to play "hardball," the paper reports.
“It doesn’t have to be this way … and it shouldn’t be," Emanuel said Monday, according to the Sun-Times. "... We have a plan for making sure our neighborhood libraries are open six-days-a-week. ... What it simply needs is a partner who’s ready to see that’s the goal and not try to use the libraries as a bargaining chip for something else. ... I’m looking forward to that partnership. The good news is, discussions are ongoing. The bad news is we have a Monday [closing and] this was all avoidable.”
Emanuel's office sent a statement to the media Friday, explaining that the change in library hours was contingent upon a deal with AFSCME. Even though some aldermen seemed shocked by the closures, Emanuel's office said they have been up front about the union deal from the start. Chicagoist explains:
They cited Emanuel's City Council budget address from Oct. 12, Oct. 19 testimony from Budget Director Alex Holt to the City Council Budget Committee and testimony from CPL Commissioner Mary Dempsey on Oct. 21. Each are on message in stating the city can save nearly $7 million if unions agree to close library branches on Monday mornings and Friday mornings, allowing the library to be open six days a week.
“I don’t understand how a plan to close libraries eight hours a week on two days serves the public any better than a plan to close the libraries eight hours a week on one day,” Anders Lindall, a spokesman for AFSCME Council 31, told the Sun-Times Friday. “Our members and the people of the city want a solution that doesn’t close the libraries at all.”
Lindall told the Chicago Tribune that, while the union has not rejected the mayor's plan outright, they believe the city has money to reinstate the 176 union members that were laid off and not cut any library hours.
Unions and some aldermen wanted Emanuel to increase the size of his tax-increment funding (TIF) surplus -- from 20 percent to 40 percent -- to free up another $12 million in order to sustain the city library system.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) told the Sun-Times that whether the mayor or the unions are to blame -- the Monday library closures are unacceptable.
“That’s not what was proposed or voted on. It’s completely contrary. We need to sit down quickly and get back to the original agreement, which was keep those libraries open” every day, he told the paper.