City furlough day impacts hundreds of employees, frustrates some departments


Allie Goulding/Daily Senior Staffer

Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave. Between 250 and 400 employees were placed on unpaid leave for the Nov. 10 furlough day, which was created to counteract budget shortages.

Catherine Henderson, Reporter

Between 250 and 400 city employees were placed on unpaid leave for the Nov. 10 furlough day, which was created to counteract budget shortages, city manager Wally Bobkiewicz said.

Although the city kept essential functions operating — such as childcare, street sweeping and the 311 system — the snow on Friday complicated the furlough day, and some departments were frustrated with not being able to provide services for residents.

Evanston Public Library board president Benjamin Schapiro said the furlough days were not a reflection of the library’s budget, but of the city’s, which is facing a $1.9 million shortfall after the city overestimated the revenue it would receive from this year’s building permits.

Schapiro said EPL has operated as a separate entity from the city for seven years, but library staff were lumped into furlough because they share a union with municipal employees.

“The next time the union and the city discuss furlough days, the library needs to be involved because our needs are different and our financial situation is different,” Schapiro said. “While our staff is part of the same bargaining unit as the city’s staff, we need to be sensitive to the differentiations between the city and the library.”

Still, Public Works Department head Dave Stoneback said he had to call in 13 other employees Nov. 10 because of the icy conditions. The employees who worked then will be expected to make up the furlough day before the end of the year by taking another day of unpaid leave, he said.

“I know employees were upset,” Stoneback said. “When it was discussed that no one would work on that day, I know they were upset that we then asked these 13 employees to work.”

Stoneback said he knew the city did not have many other options, and a city-wide furlough day was better than having to lay people off.

After negotiating with unions, Bobkiewicz said officials gave employees a month’s notice of the four-day work week. He said the city tried to make strategic decisions to minimize the impact on employees.

“Probably the biggest way we mitigated it is we picked a national holiday,” Bobkiewicz said. “We’re hopeful that by picking a day when many places are closed already is not inconveniencing people too much.”

The furlough day was not a “major challenge” for the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department, even though about 90 percent of staff took the day off, said Lawrence Hemingway, the department’s head. He added that his division was permitted to continue providing child care services and facility rentals.

“I believe the city did all it could to avoid furlough days,” he said. “Each department has taken cuts throughout the year in our budget to try to help meet the budget shortfall. I think after everything else had been tried, we still had to make up some differences.”

City staff has also proposed three additional furlough days for 2018: President’s Day, Labor Day and New Year’s Eve, Bobkiewicz said. These days have yet to be approved by City Council.

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