By Marissa Alter
ROCKFORD (WREX) - The union representing 86 Rockford Library workers brainstorms ways to save more than a quarter of its members' jobs. Last night the Library Board approved a reorganization plan that could cut staff, hours, and the Lewis Lemon branch.
The bargaining unit has until August 28 to come up with alternative ideas to plug a projected $1.7 million dollar budget hole and then present those suggestions to the Library Board. Today union leaders got the thinking process started.
For AFSCME 3350 President Karla Janssen, the past 24 hours have been nonstop.
"Texting till 11:30 last night. And I quit answering the phone I'm sorry to say."
That's since the news broke that 30 library workers total would be laid off, 24 of them union members. Major budget concerns first came up last month when the city said it wants to stop pension payments to the library, a loss of nearly $825,000.
"In one way, it's a relief to actually have some news to work with, but it is stressful. People who have worked here for decades will be losing their jobs. That's very, very painful."
Among those on the chopping block, Janssen herself. The librarian assistant has more than 12 years of service. Janssen says the 23 other laid-off union workers haven't all been notified yet. She wouldn't go into specifics about what positions are cut except to say, "The children in Rockford will be affected dramatically. I feel safe saying that."
But the collective bargaining unit has 10 days to change that. Today's brainstorm session was closed to the public, but Janssen said all ideas are on the table, including reducing hours and generating revenue. And she's optimistic the group isn't wasting its time
"Hopefully we can minimize the effect. Whether we can save my job or not, I don't know, but certainly we want to minimize the effect to all of our members."
Library Board President John Brian says he's open to the union's ideas. "I think we have to listen to every option we have. I don't know what their options are going to be, what they'll have in mind, but obviously it's something we have to seriously consider."
Union leaders meet with members to get input this Friday. They have till August 28 to submit ideas. The library board then takes a final vote at a special meeting Monday, August 31.