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Ald. Burke, Reilly urge library workers to forgo raise to avert Monday closing

Updated: February 12, 2012 8:19AM

A pair of powerful aldermen is urging Chicago public library employees to forfeit their 3.5 percent pay raise for 2012 to eliminate the all-day Monday closing of branch libraries that started earlier this week.

The surprise proposal by Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, and Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), vice-chairman of the Budget Committee, strengthens Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s hand in the mayor’s stand-off with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31.

Chicago’s branch libraries were closed all day Monday for the first time in recent memory after the latest in a string of disputes between Emanuel and organized labor.

Emanuel accused AFSCME of blocking a scheduling change that would have averted the Monday closing — by closing libraries on Monday and Friday mornings — because they’re using libraries as a “bargaining chip” to “achieve something else.”

On Tuesday, Burke and Reilly joined the fray with a letter to Henry Bayer, executive director of AFSCME Council 31. In it, the aldermen noted that AFSCME’s 3.5 percent pay raise for 2012 comes with a $1.6 million pricetag — enough to restore 120 or 65 percent of the 176 library employees who were laid off last week.

More important than saving jobs, that $1.6 million would allow the city to open libraries on Monday afternoons, restoring six days of library service, the aldermen wrote.

“We strongly urge you and your members to put on hold the pay raise for AFSCME library employees which, it should be noted, is one of the largest of any public employee pay raises. It would allow the city to keep libraries open six days a week in our communities, ensuring critical community anchors serve our residents and provide children a place to study and learn after the school day has ended,” the letter states.

“We believe this must be part of the solution ... as opposed to rolling back the employee head tax reduction, as your union leadership has recently suggested. A reduction in this tax is essential to economic growth and job creation throughout Chicago and is not an option when our goal is to strengthen the city’s economic future.”

AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall welcomed the “exchange of ideas” on how to preserve library hours and rescind the 176 layoffs. But, he said, “We don’t think the values reflected in this particular proposal — values that prioritize corporate tax cuts over fair pay for working people — are in step with most peoples’ values.”

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