Wednesday, Tacoma Public Library (TPL) announced the temporary layoff of 85 staff members due to the impact of shutdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The temporary layoff is effective May 4, 2020, through July 25, 2020, though some employees could return earlier. The end date corresponds with the expiration of the federal CARES Act Stimulus that currently expands unemployment benefits.
All Tacoma Public Library locations have been closed since March 14, 2020.
The affected employees are those whose job duties were significantly impacted by the Governor’s mandatory closure of public libraries, and those whose take-home pay is the least impacted. Employees with health care coverage will not lose it during the temporary layoff.
“The temporary layoff plan is designed to preserve income and benefits while allowing us to keep enough staff on hand to manage essential functions, plan for phased re-opening, and to meet new demands on service,” TPL Director Kate Larsen said. “We would like to thank our labor partners who worked diligently alongside us during this difficult time.
“TPL is committed to contributing to the success of the community and the City of Tacoma as an organization, and this situation is no exception.”
However, Larsen noted, “Tacoma Public Library was only just beginning to recover from the effects of the 2011 recession in rebuilding its efficiencies and public service programs when COVID-19 hit. These temporary layoffs are especially gut-wrenching knowing that Tacoma’s library services, and our organization’s ability to recover from COVID-19 related closures, will be significantly hampered as a result. Furthermore, the contribution of every single staff member is valuable. Tacoma greatly benefits from our staff’s dedication and determination to serve the community.”
Remaining TPL staff will continue to provide essential services, including unemployment application support to all affected City of Tacoma employees. Most non-represented staff at the library, including the Director, are taking a voluntary 11 percent cut in pay.
Since closing its buildings on March 14, TPL has converted many services to online and streaming platforms, adding popular programs like family storytimes to its YouTube channel and streaming programs on Facebook Live. Under mandatory closure, libraries are unable to offer computer and Internet access for people who need to apply for unemployment or to simply have access to entertainment. As a response to the growing need, TPL recently focused their online fundraiser, Library Giving Day, to fund purchases of loanable Wi-Fi hotspots and Chromebooks.
Tacoma Public Library’s budget makes up approximately 5% of the City of Tacoma’s General Fund, which is facing upwards of a $40M shortfall in 2020 from the projected loss of revenue from sales, property, and business and operations taxes. In combination with one-time cost savings in the form of delayed or canceled library projects, the savings from temporary layoffs is projected to contribute $1.25M toward the deficit.
Updates to the library’s response to the COVID-19 crisis can be found on its website.