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Gary library board delays employee reorganization

Updated: April 1, 2012 8:23AM



GARY — Just one day after being accused of “union busting,” the Gary Public Library board Tuesday night suspended its March 1 deadline for launching a reorganization plan that included layoffs and dropping a number of employees from full-time to part-time status.

Also, three of the board members will form a committee to work out a new reorganization plan with library and union officials.

The move bought some time for AFSCME Local 2760, which represents 32 staff members in the four remaining Gary public libraries, to get involved in trying to avert the employment changes, something union leaders said they’ve been asking for all along.

Several board members, especially board president Tony Walker, have maintained the former library director should have come up with a reorganization plan for staffing changes that reflected the system’s dire financial state.

Instead, the burden fell on newly hired library Director Otis Alexander, who unveiled his plan in late January. AFSCME leaders have said they were not included in planning the changes.

“Much to my chagrin and dismay, over the remainder of 2011, there was absolutely no movement towards a reorganization plan (by the former director) or engaging the union in a reorganization plan,” Walker said.

But the good feelings among union members were tempered somewhat by word the three-member committee charged with coming up with a new reorganization plan will be made up of Walker and members Cynthia Watts and Rayfield Fisher.

None of the three board members who form a vocal minority bloc — Paula Nalls, Sadie Sheffield and, often, Nancy Valentine — were appointed.

“If (the committee) is willing to meet with us, that’s fine,” local president Gracie Allen said. “But I think (Walker) should’ve appointed one of the opposing bloc. But I’m going to go in with an open mind.”

Alexander’s plan, approved by a split board, called for eliminating nine of 32 full-time positions, keeping five full-time posts and converting 18 full-time posts to part-time, saving $1.4 million.

On Monday, AFSCME leaders said they agreed with the nine job eliminations but proposed keeping the remaining 23 represented employees full-time, as long as all library board employees took a 10 percent pay cut.

AFSCME staff representative Cassandra Stigger called Alexander’s proposal and lack of meeting with the union “unfair” on Monday, but she toned down her response after Tuesday’s committee announcement.

Along with plummeting tax revenue, the closure of the Main Library, leaving the four neighborhood branches open with extended hours, has increased the need to keep library staff, she said.

“I was pleased (the board) stopped the reorganization plan” scheduled to begin Wednesday, Stigger said. “But, we do need those employees, because they’ve been experiencing heavier flows than what they’re used to at the remaining libraries.”

Walker said the committee, administration and union will work together on a new plan, but it still must meet the financial restraints weighing down the system.

“I think it’s only fair the financial crisis be impacted by all parties affected,” he said. “I believe there should be shared sacrifices and everybody should share in those financial sacrifices.”



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