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Emanuel accuses union of using libraries as ‘bargaining chip’

Mayor Rahm Emanuel CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard answered reporter's questions after they toured BenjamE. Mays elementary school 838 W. Marquette

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard answered reporter's questions after they toured Benjamin E. Mays elementary school, 838 W. Marquette Rd., as it started the full school day, giving its students additional hours of instruction time. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 9, 2012 5:54PM

Chicago Public Libraries were closed for business on Monday for the first time in recent memory after the latest in a string of disputes between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and organized labor.

Emanuel accused the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31 representing library employees of blocking a scheduling change that would have averted the Monday closing because they’re using libraries as a “bargaining chip” to “achieve something else.”

The mayor’s plan called for closing libraries on Monday and Friday mornings, when usage is down, but keeping libraries open six-days-a-week.

When AFSCME refused to authorize that change, City Hall played hardball — by making the abrupt switch to all-day Monday closings.

“They’re trying to talk about a host of other subjects. I want to solve the library problem and they know that,” the mayor said.

“It doesn’t have to be this way … and it shouldn’t be. ... 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 refused to describe the “something else” AFSCME is trying to achieve. The union has also waged a vigorous campaign to reverse the mayor’s plan to consolidate the city’s 12 mental health clinics into six.

Anders Lindall, a spokesman for AFSCME Council 31, said the union sent a “cease-and-desist” letter to the city last week when it learned of Emanuel’s plan to implement the all-day Monday closing.

But, the mayor forged ahead anyway, in violation of the union contract, he said.

“They have no right under the contract or under the law to impose a work schedule without reasonable advance notice and discussion with the union,” Lindall said.

“It’s something we could grieve. We’ll look at our options under the contract or under the law. But what’s important to the people is to make sure libraries remain open. They don’t want both sides to agree on how to close libraries. Hopefully, we’ll be able to reach an agreement that can avert the reduced hours on a permanent basis going forward and bring the 176 library employees back from layoffs.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that the Monday closing angered Chicago aldermen, who thought they had a deal with Emanuel to keep the libraries open six days a week.

The question now is how long the mayor is prepared to tolerate the Monday shutdown before he tries some kind of end-run around the union.

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