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Emanuel announces plan to reopen libraries on Mondays

Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Mayor Rahm Emanuel

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Updated: February 22, 2012 8:05AM

Chicago’s branch libraries will reopen on Mondays, thanks to a political end-run engineered by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The mayor has accused the union representing library employees of blocking a scheduling change that would have averted the all-day Monday closing because they’re using libraries as a “bargaining chip” to “achieve something else.”

But, he’s not about to sit around and wait for the stalemate with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31 to end.

On Saturday, the mayor announced that branch libraries will re-open on Monday afternoons — just as he had planned before the union balked at a schedule that included two half-days-a-week so libraries could open late on Monday and Friday.

Starting Feb. 6, the libraries will be staffed on Monday afternoons during the school year with the help of 90 union positions: approximately 45 reinstated union members, 32 who are being called back after being laid off, and 13 who will return to full-time status after being bumped to part-time; about 25 reassigned staffers from the Harold Washington Library and an estimated 20 new part-time library associates. A “re-balancing” of an unspecified number of other staffers will bolster the arrangement, said Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey, who said she was “thrilled” about it at a news conference where Emanuel announced the plan at the West Pullman Library, 830 W. 119th St..

Mayoral press secretary Sarah Hamilton said reopening the libraries on Mondays was a difficult task.

“It was not easy to do this. We had to take some difficult steps. But the bottom line is libraries will be open six-days-a-week and our kids will have a place to go during the school year. It’s the right thing to do for the city,” Hamilton said.

The end-run allows the mayor to declare victory — for the time being at least — in his latest skirmish with organized labor.

The only question is whether AFSCME will pay the price at the bargaining table when its union contract expires on June 30.

That’s a distinct possibility, judging from the heated rhetoric on both sides.

Earlier this month, Emanuel lambasted the union for standing in the way of a solution less painful to library patrons than the all-day Monday closing that infuriated Chicago aldermen.

“I’m as upset as the aldermen are. … I didn’t support this and I don’t want it. ... I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. That’s why I came up with an alternative idea. But the alternative idea requires a `yes’ from the other side,” Emanuel said.

“I expect labor to be a partner in better managing the time because it’s about the people we serve in communities — not about them. ... They’re trying to talk about a host of other subjects. I want to solve the library problem. ... What it 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.”

At the Saturday news conference, Emanuel clearly was talking about the union when he said: ‘Don’t try to achieve other objectives through the back door of the librairies.”

“We have tough times,” he added. “I can’t wish those tough times away.”

Henry Bayer, executive director of AFSCME Council 31, countered by saying the city has dragged its feet on setting up meetings with the union.

“Because the city has not communicated with our union in more than a week, we know none of the details of this plan,” he said in a prepared statement.

“Recalling some employees to work and restoring some library hours appears to be a step in the right direction, and a sign that the mayor is starting to appreciate the importance of libraries.”

“Today’s plan seems to leave branch libraries closed most Monday mornings and more than 100 library employees still out of work. We urge the mayor to work with the union to finish the job for the people of Chicago, a world-class city that deserves libraries fully open and fully staffed.”

Bayer accused the mayor of “looking for scapegoats rather than solutions” to the library controversy to “hide the fact that libraries aren’t a big priority for this administration.”

He noted that the mayor “wanted to cut the libraries even more” before an aldermanic outcry forced him to soften the blow.

Bayer also denounced a pair of powerful aldermen as “handmaidens of the mayor” for suggesting that library employees forfeit their 3.5 percent pay raise for 2012 to generate the $1.6 million needed to keep libraries open six days a week.

If Emanuel can ask corporate donors to help bankroll the $60 million NATO and G-8 Summits, Bayer said, he can ask those same businesses to cough up $3 million to keep Chicago public libraries open on Mondays.

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