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City of El Paso rescinding at least some library layoff notices

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Some El Paso librarians have been reinstated to their jobs, two days after the city sparked public outrage by sending them layoff notices.

Sue Barnum, a longtime librarian who received a layoff notice on Wednesday after almost a year of being furloughed, got an email Thursday evening that said the notice is being rescinded.

On Friday Barnum, along with other librarians who received the layoff notice, were reinstated after meetings with the human resources department at City Hall and are set to return to work March 8. 

“It’s just unbelievable. I mean, one day we’re all down and the next we are up,” she said.

Sue Barnum, branch manager of the public library’s Westside Branch, received an email Thursday saying her layoff notice was being rescinded. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

It was not clear how many of the librarians and library staff were reinstated. City officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Barnum said she is concerned that library assistants had not yet been contacted by the city.

Rick Aragon, a librarian who had also been furloughed and received a layoff notice, received an email and phone call that the layoff letter was being rescinded and that he would be placed in his original position with the city.

“I’m pleased that public pressure has forced the city manager’s office to reconsider their decision to let us go,” Aragon said.

Aragon said he was reinstated on Friday, but has mixed emotions.

“I’m happy to be back, sad that some library assistants are still in limbo (and) angry that (City Manager) Tommy Gonzalez and his office are still around,” he said.

The librarians who received the email notifications have appointments scheduled at City Hall throughout the day to receive more information about the decision.

The city sent layoff notices on Wednesday to 75 employees who had been furloughed since May. Most of them worked at the library, city Chief Financial Officer Robert Cortinas said. It wasn’t immediately clear how many of the 75 layoffs were rescinded. The notices said they would not return to their former jobs but would be offered other jobs within the city, though possibly at lower pay.

City officials initially said the positions that were being eliminated were from departments overseeing parks, museums, libraries and the zoo. The employees who received the notices were set to be placed in a range of 18 other departments including municipal courts, Sun Metro, purchasing and animal services among others.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many of the 75 layoffs were rescinded.

The city of El Paso placed 156 civil service employees on a furlough status in May after COVID-19 started spreading in the area and several city services were closed to the public. The majority of the closures were in the quality of life sector such as museums and libraries.

Since the furlough, 65 of the 156 returned to work at the city, and 16 decided to retire or take jobs elsewhere.

Furloughed employees reached out to El Paso Matters after months of not getting information about their futures and whether they would have jobs to return to.

Cortinas, during a press conference Wednesday, said it was unclear if deep cuts to library employees would force changes like branch closings or reduction of hours of service once in-person services resume. The city currently allows only curbside pickup of books.

In a press release late Thursday, the city said the currently impacted positions are not being deleted even as it planned to move those employees to other jobs.

“It is the city’s intention, as it has been presented to the council, to continue phasing-in the reopening of quality of life services. As facility and services are brought back online, affected employees will be eligible to apply for the reactivated positions,” the release said.

The release did not say where the city would find the funding to reactivate positions. The late Thursday news release also made no mention of the city rescinding the layoff notices, even though those emails to employees were sent hours before the news release.

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Elida S. Perez

Elida S. Perez is a longtime community and investigative reporter. Her experience includes work as city government watchdog reporter for the El Paso Times, investigative reporter for El Paso Newspaper Tree and communities reporter with the Salem, Oregon, Statesman Journal.

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