Photo by Joe Boyle
The Oak Lawn Library Board of Trustees approved a budget to reduce the real estate tax levy by 5 percent. But the board is concerned over union organizing efforts by employees.
By Dermot Connolly
The Oak Lawn Public Library Board of Trustees recently approved the 2021 budget and reduced the real estate tax levy by 5 percent over the current year, despite added costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic and plans for employees to unionize.
Interim library director Kathy Szott, the business and personnel manager for the library, said the total 2021 budget is $5,603,848. The 2021 library levy requested is $5,400,448.
In a statement released after the budget was passed on Oct. 20, the board said the reduced level of service at the library due to the pandemic stay-at-home orders allowed the library board and management team “to closely evaluate how the library dedicates its resources in serving its patrons.”
The board also said that although the budget is primarily made up of fixed costs, they found ways to reallocate resources and reduce next year’s tax levy “in an effort to alleviate the burden on our local taxpayers and still provide the library services they need to make it through this pandemic.”
The board has reallocated funds originally intended for a blanket cost-of-living increase to a system of merit raises “to recognize those deeply valued contributions to our institution and its patrons” made by the “large contingent of full- and part-time staff who have continued to serve our patrons behind the scenes, both on-site and remotely from home” despite the pandemic.
T he library at 9427 S. Raymond Ave. was closed from March 14 to July 13 due to the stay-at-home orders, but is open Monday through Saturday now with hours reduced 22 percent. As of late October, foot traffic was down approximately 70 percent and book circulation was down 50 percent, according to staff. But the board noted that the use of online resources through the website is over 28 percent, as might be expected.
“Over the last several months, we have instituted curbside pickup, grab and go checkout, provided limited capacity in our computer center and re-opened our stacks for limited browsing,” said the board in its statement.
The board is hoping to soon allow local students access to a study room and widely dispersed tables, thereby providing them “with an option for a safe and efficient space to meet and do their homework.”
“We have adjusted our budget to reflect the shifting needs of our patrons. We have also allocated increased resources for cleaning and personal protective equipment. Unfortunately, there is a union organizing effort underway that has forced us to reallocate resources from patron services to allow for potentially substantial legal fees. Our budget assumes a return to full service at mid-year (2021) provided circumstances allow,” the statement said.
“ Our extremely small budget line for legal fees had to be increased over 1,000 percent in anticipation of months, if not years, of legal fees associated with union negotiations,” said Szott.
Mark Renard, a senior organizer with AFSCME Council 31, said last week that “a strong majority of employees signed cards supporting the union, and the petition was filed with the Illinois Labor Relations Board. The ILRB has given notice to the library board and management, adding that the union is now waiting for a response, which usually takes several weeks.
He questioned the board’s decision to hire an outside law firm to handle the petition on their behalf, rather than using “in-house counsel from the village.” But the village and library are separate taxing bodies.
“AFSCME believes that all employees included in the petition filed are eligible to be in the union, but management will have the opportunity to challenge some of the titles we filed. That can lead to a hearing at the ILRB,” said Renard, noting that legal fees will be associated with bargaining sessions.
“Again, AFSCME believes this matter can be resolved without a hearing, and without a contentious bargaining process, if the board respects the legal rights of their workers to form a union, and to come to the table and bargain a contract in good faith,” said Renard.