Library cuts inevitable

By The Columbia Chronicle

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has taken no prisoners in his tirade against Chicago’s $635 million deficit, libraries included. After a controversial decision to close 76 of the city’s 79 libraries on Mondays, Emanuel is calling out the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, the union that represents library employees, for using library issues as a “bargaining chip” for other problems.

Emanuel slipped up this time, as such a weighty decision vastly affects the public. Students and seniors rely on libraries for education, communication and sometimes a shelter. The fact that libraries were targeted at all is unsettling.

Emanuel originally proposed that libraries be closed Monday and Friday mornings, but the union did not fully agree to his plan, though it didn’t reject it either. Many aldermen were not in favor. Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward) said Emanuel’s decision was not the agreed upon course of action.

In response, Alderman Edward Burke (14th Ward), longtime chairman of the Finance Committee, suggested that library employees give up a 3.5 percent pay raise so libraries can keep their normal hours. Burke argued that doing so would save $1.6 million, enough money to rehire 120 of the 176 laid-off employees, allowing libraries to stay open, according to Burke and Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) in a letter to the union. The union offered its own solution to the mayor: corporate donations. AFSCME Executive Director Henry Bayer said if Emanuel can raise $65 million for the spring G-8 and NATO summits, surely he could redirect cash flow to the city’s libraries. Though all sides are offering solutions, negotiations are at a standstill, and the union has filed a grievance with the city.

Library hours are now reduced to a measly 40 hours per week. With libraries now closed all day Mondays, many kids won’t have a place to go after school. However, Emanuel is looking for ways to kill the deficit without hurting the private sector, so it was inevitable that libraries would suffer cuts. Either way, Emanuel doesn’t want to budge on the issue, and Burke’s solution is the only viable one at this point.

Library employees need to pick the lesser of the two evils: Don’t take a pay increase so libraries can stay open on Monday afternoons. The country is still in a recession, and Emanuel served a “tough love” budget to the entire city. Though it’s not the most ideal solution for the union, it’s better than losing eight hours of work, and the libraries can stay open for the real victims: the public.