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Union chief: Emanuel should ask business donors to solve library problem

Henry Bayer executive director American FederatiState County Municipal Employees Council 31

Henry Bayer, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31

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Updated: February 15, 2012 8:07AM

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

“Library services are much more important to Chicago’s neighborhoods than bringing the G-8 to the city,” said Henry Bayer, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31.

“If those people can afford to put up $45 million or $60 million, which is the city’s estimate, why isn’t he out there asking them, `Wouldn’t you be willing to pay a little bit more — just a fraction of that $60 million — which could be used to keep the libraries open’ ” six days-a-week?

Taping the WLS-AM radio program, “Connected to Chicago,” to air at 6 a.m. Sunday, Bayer accused Emanuel of “looking for scapegoats rather than solutions” to the all-day Monday closing of branch libraries that began this week to “hide the fact that libraries aren’t a big priority for this administration.”

The mayor “wanted to cut libraries even more” before an aldermanic outcry forced him to soften the blow, Bayer said.

“The mayor shows contempt for city employees. He likes to portray city employees as something other than hard-working. [But] all I know is when I came into work this morning, the streets had been plowed. I don’t think the mayor did that. City workers did that,” he said.

Bayer also lashed out at a pair of powerful aldermen — Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th) and Budget Committee vice-chair Brendan Reilly (42nd) — 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.

“It’s not their idea. It’s the mayor’s idea. The mayor put them up to it. They’re handmaidens of the mayor in this instance,” Bayer said.

“It’s very nice of them. I don’t see any sacrifices the aldermen are willing to make. They seem to be spending most of their time trying to preserve their jobs [in a new ward map].We wish they would figure out how to preserve the jobs of librarians and other front-line employees and how to get more police on the streets.”

Bayer noted that Burke and Reilly voted for both the budget that cut library hours as well as the AFSCME pay hike.

“To express surprise that it was in there — these are two aldermen who are supposed to be knowledgeable about the city budget. If they didn’t know what they voted for, that’s a sad commentary on the state of the City Council,” he said.

Burke and Reilly could not be reached for comment.

Mayoral press secretary Sarah Hamilton countered that Emanuel’s commitment to libraries has been “crystal clear” from the beginning.

“He would not permanently close any libraries. He has a plan to keep them open six days a week. And the city needs AFSCME to be its partner to implement the plan,” Hamilton wrote in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“They have acted as our partners before — on wellness, McCormick Place and with a commitment to repairing our infrastructure — and we hope they do so again.”

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.

The mayor 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.”

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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