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City lays off library custodians

City library custodians are laid off City Chicago Department Fleet Facility Management Friday November 30 2012. Secretary Treasury Matt Brandwho

City library custodians are laid off at the City of Chicago Department of Fleet and Facility Management on Friday, November 30, 2012. Secretary of Treasury Matt Brandon, who represents all public employees, confirms that over 50 workers will be laid off today. I Stacie Scott~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 2, 2013 6:09AM



The 300 union custodians on the chopping block at O’Hare Airport because of a controversial $99 million janitorial contract are not the only maintenance workers being dumped.

Fifty-four custodians charged with cleaning Chicago Public libraries are also getting their walking papers, effective Friday.

Glenda Thomas, 47, who has worked for 17 years at the Hegewisch branch, reported to the Department of Fleet and Facilities Management on Friday morning to drop off her ID card and keys.

“I’m very concerned because I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Thomas said. “Christmas is coming. What about my bills I have to pay at home? No one is concerned about that.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration confirmed the custodian’s claim that layoff notices went out to the library janitors and that they would be paid through Dec. 14.

Mayoral spokesperson Kathleen Strand then emailed a statement to the Chicago Sun-Times on behalf of the department known as “2FM” around City Hall.

“The Chicago Public Library is the last city department with facilities managed by 2FM that are staffed by city-employed custodians. All of the other facilities managed by 2FM have been using private vendors for some time,” Strand wrote. “Collective bargaining agreement provisions urge any new vendor to consider hiring displaced employees. The city will also provide information on other city employment opportunities. In addition, all of the employees being laid off now qualify for part-time positions created under a new agreement with their union,” Service Employees International Union Local 73.

Strand stressed that the jobs of the library custodians were eliminated as part of Emanuel’s first budget “that passed the City Council unanimously” a year ago.

The city is just now getting around to issuing pink slips because of a lengthy procurement process that culminated in awards to two companies expected to save the city $2.8 million-a-year: Triad Consulting Services and Dayspring Professional Janitorial Services, she said. Both companies are certified MBE-WBE contractors, a minority certification that gives them a leg up on city contracts.

“The RFP [request for proposals] process took a lot of time,” Strand said.

Matt Brandon, of the SEIU Local 73 that represents the custodians, said workers knew layoffs were coming but did not expect them before the middle of December. The union and city have had ongoing conversations about the workers’ future, he said.

“The Mayor’s Office has been working with us to try to stave off layoffs. Obviously, they couldn’t, but we’re still working with the Mayor’s Office to try to bring these workers back,” he said.

Earlier this year, SEIU Local 73 hammered out a new four year-contract covering 2,100 “non-sworn” public safety employees that will limit pay raises to 6 percent over four years and substitute one-time-only “signing bonuses” of $150-to-$500 for retroactive pay.

Employees impacted by that contract include traffic control and parking enforcement aides, crossing guards, detention aides, aviation security officers and inspectors, officers and aides assigned to the city’s Commission on Animal Care and Control.

At the time, Brandon acknowledged that 6 percent over four years was nothing to write home about and that a cash bonus was a poor substitute for a retroactive pay raise.

But, he maintained, “They said they didn’t have the money for retro pay. This is the next best thing. ... We bargained until the bitter end about this and, yeah, it’s a tough contract. But, the members now have a collective bargaining agreement that runs until 2016 and they feel a lot more secure in their jobs.”

Last year, Local 73 did battle with Emanuel over the mayor’s decision to lay off 72 full-time traffic-control aides, 26 of whom have since been re-hired as police detention aides or to replace traffic control aides who have since retired.

This year, the union signed an early agreement with the city even though the new contract does not include a no-layoff guarantee.

What changed?

“Furlough days and unpaid holidays have cost our members 8 percent over the last two contracts. They started by saying, `We’re not utilizing furlough days or unpaid holidays.’ So, immediately, we felt there was gonna be good-faith bargaining based on real numbers,” Brandon said.

“We have the word of the people who sat across from us that this contract will make it possible to maintain current levels of employment and to, possibly, add more as vacancies occur. We have no promise of that. But, I believe them because of the way these negotiations started. We’re not gonna use smoke and mirrors this time to get us out of this budget hole.”



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