Earlier this month, employees of several city-owned entities — including the Birmingham Public Library and the Birmingham Parks and Recreation Board, among others — received letters from Mayor Randall Woodfin’s office informing them that they would be furloughed.
Now, they’re being told to ignore that furlough letter — but another one might be coming.
“The letter is now moot,” said Cedric Sparks, Woodfin’s chief of staff, during a teleconference with Birmingham employees on Friday, responding to a question specifically focused on library employees. “The letter that you have received, please disregard that letter. Your next letter will come directly from the library board.”
However, the mayor’s office also announced that it had raised funding for libraries and parks in a revised budget proposal.
The city’s ability to furlough library employees had been challenged by the library’s board of trustees, which issued a letter to staff telling them to “continue to work as scheduled until further notice from the Library Administration and/or Library HR Department.”
During Friday’s call with employees, Woodfin appeared to acquiesce to the library board. “This week we reached a compromise,” he said. “We will be giving additional funding to the library system. However, there still will be furloughs.” Those furloughs, however, are now entirely up to the library board’s discretion.
The additional funding of “$2.5 million and some change,” Woodfin said, will ensure that “services continue at the current level” at four regional libraries and the library’s central branch. Library employees currently offer virtual reference services, homework help and curbside distribution, which put 5,780 items into circulation in July.
Woodfin’s proposed budget had cut the BPL’s funding from $15.36 million to $12.83 million; a $2.5 million increase would bring BPL’s FY 2021 funding nearly level with the previous year. But, Woodfin reiterated, there will still be furloughs.
“Ultimately, what happens and who is furloughed, what buildings remain open and closed, will be determined by (Executive Director Floyd) Council and his board,” Woodfin said. “Who gets furloughed, which buildings will remain open and closed, is 100% determined by the library board.”
A similar deal had been struck with the Birmingham Parks and Recreation Board, Woodfin said. It would receive an additional $1.7 million from his revised budget proposal and would have purview over which of its employees are furloughed.
Woodfin’s office has not yet announced where the additional money comes from.
“Other culture and arts organizations also are receiving some additional help,” Woodfin said, though he didn’t specify. Full-time employees at the Arlington House, the Birmingham Museum of Art, Boutwell Auditorium, CrossPlex, Parks and Recreation, Arlington House, Sloss Furnaces and the Southern Museum of Flight also had received furlough notices.
Of those organizations, Sparks said, those that have a board of directors should also wait for follow-up furlough letters from that board. The new letters should come “within the next two weeks,” he said.
Not receiving a furlough reprieve are employees of the Birmingham Museum of Art, according to Human Resources Director Jill Madajczyk. “The museum of art employees are employees of the city of Birmingham,” she said, and thus their initial furlough letters were final.
“I’m worried about all of us,” Woodfin said at the end of Friday’s call. “I think we’ll see the light very soon, but there’s some struggle and hard times before we get there.”