Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has decided to close Chicago branch libraries for the entire day on Mondays as the way to implement his 2012 budget cuts. His original plan was to cut $11 million from the Chicago library system budget, layoff 363 library employees, and close libraries for eight hours a week. After massive public outcry and protest, Emanuel relented and decided to cut $8 million and layoff 176 instead. The reduced 2012 Chicago public library cuts were passed unanimously by city aldermen in November of last year.
The budget cuts require branch libraries to be closed on Monday and Friday mornings during the school year so that they could remain open the entire day when school is out. The plan requires the labor union representing librarians to approve the change in schedules as well.
This is where things broke down. Instead of libraries being closed on Monday and Friday morning when there are few visitors, the libraries are scheduled to be closed for the entire day on Mondays.
According to the Chicago Sun Times, Emanuel blames the union for the libraries being closed on Mondays. His budget requires libraries to be open for eight less hours a week and he claims the union is unwilling to have their employees work for a half day on two days and is demanding that librarians work one full eight hour day instead. Emanuel claims he is just as angry about the Monday closures as everyone else.
The AFSCME union claims that they were stunned by the decision and that they are actively communicating with the Mayor on a solution. However, a statement made by AFSCME Council 31 spokesman seems to reveal a lot about the union’s position. The spokesman said, “I don’t understand how a plan to close libraries eight hours a week on two days serves the public any better than a plan to close the libraries eight hours a week on one day. Our members and the people of the city want a solution that doesn’t close the libraries at all.”
So it looks like the mayor and the union are playing a game of chicken over Chicago public libraries. Emanuel is trying to implement his library budget cuts and the union is trying to keep any cuts from happening.
The interesting part is it looks like the decision to close the libraries on Mondays was made by Emanuel as a way to try and put pressure on the union to agree to the Monday and Friday morning closures instead. The irony is that closing the libraries on Mondays will probably help the library union achieve their goal of no library cuts at all.
Closing libraries for an entire day during the week is a big impact and is something the residents of Chicago will definitely notice. This will definitely cause an uproar in both the citizens and their elected representatives in the city. This might lead to an initiative or enough of a protest to ultimately cause Chicago library budgets to be restored like they were in Los Angeles and New York last year.