Concerns remain as Birmingham public libraries reopen, furloughed employees return to work

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — After being furloughed for the last two months, dozens of Birmingham library employees returned to work Monday, but not without some concern that it could happen again.

City leaders furloughed 158 employees in late September as a way to cut costs as the city faced a $63-million shortfall due to the economic challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, the city council approved $4.5 million to bring many of them back, including full-time library employees.

Tiffany West was among those who had been furloughed. She described the experience as frustrating and depressing. She had to go on unemployment and said it was devastating not having her typical income.

“I’m glad that, for the time being, that the public will be able to take part in and enjoy the services of their local library,” West said.

West is glad to return to work and have her health care benefits, but she worries the city may decide to furlough employees again.

“We’re still not out of this pandemic,” she said. “They’re talking about, you know, a third wave.”

Some community activists have concerns as well. Celida Soto said she believes the furloughs should never have happened.

“What we could have avoided is trauma, of course, people being fearful of losing their livelihood, in turn their electricity, their utilities, all sorts of benefits,” Soto said.

Birmingham City Council President William Parker has said he believes that bringing back the employees is a sign of progress.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Parker told CBS 42 last week. “We’re going to continuously work with the park board, the library board, the mayor, the finance department. It’s all of us working together.”

Only full-time workers were able to return to the libraries. Part-time employees remain furloughed.


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