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Reduced parking passes put financial stress on library employees



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Monroe County Public Library is located at 303 E. Kirkwood Ave. Because of rising parking costs, the City of Bloomington is cutting down the amount of parking passes available to the library's 140 employees from 50 to 12. Alex Deryn Buy Photos

Parking in downtown Bloomington can be a hassle, but new retracted parking passes for the Monroe County Public Library may put employees at strong financial risk. 

Because of rising parking costs, the City of Bloomington is cutting down the amount of parking passes available to the library's 140 employees from 50 to 12. 

“There’s no increase in pay to make up for it, we’re just expected to absorb those costs,” said Shannon Bowman-Sarkisian, a library employee and IU graduate student. “We’re left on our own to solve it.”

Although she does not have a parking pass and chooses to take the bus, Bowman-Sarkisian said making low-income and part-time employees who don’t live near public transportation pay for parking every single day is a big financial strain.

“The city did not prepare for this,” Bowman-Sarkisian said. “It feels like being a part-time worker in Bloomington is a constant reminder of how disposable we are.” 

She said she knew a couple of co-workers who might leave the library because of the issue.

“Do we want a diverse staff or just people who are wealthy enough to work there?” Bowman-Sarkisian said. 

Some employees at the library are actively working against the reduced number of passes, such as Sam Ott, a steward for the Monroe County section of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees trade union.

The common council voted to raise parking prices in September of 2018, but it went into effect at the beginning of June, Ott said.

“In many cases, people don’t have modes of alternate transportation,” council member Jim Sims said Sept. 19, 2018 at a city council meeting.  “We’re talking about hopes and could-be’s and might-be’s, parking could still be a problem for them.”

The library employees were told by the city about six months ago the library would subsidize the difference until August 19. The city did not specify what would happen after that date. 

“We knew something was coming when the board decided it, but without specifics, we knew it would be hard to fight for,” Ott said. 

This isn't the first time parking issues have arisen for the Monroe County Public Library.

In the 1990s, the city tried to move the public library away from its downtown location after it discovered there were limited parking spaces, but then-Mayor Tomi Allison proposed multiple solutions. 

“She suggested that library board members consider a multi-story parking garage as the solution to one of the problems the library is facing — inadequate parking,” according to a Bloomington Herald-Times article from 1992. 

A proposed parking garage was never built, contributing to current parking issues. The library remained downtown after support from the public and city council members.

AFSCME members have been working together to contact city representatives and fight back against the retracted parking permits, writing letters to the mayor and common council.

“It’s a unifying issue because even though I’m not a person who uses a parking pass, I know how difficult it is to get around without a car,” Bowman-Sarkisian said. “Transportation can be a huge stressor.”

AFSCME members drafted and finished their largest letter to the city July 10, requesting meetings to work with city officials. After it gets the signature of other union presidents in Bloomington, it will be sent.

“Making every employee bike or walk to work is not sustainable,” Ott said. “We really hope the reps from the city will come meet with us and find solutions.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly shortened American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to AFSME. It is actually AFSCME. The IDS regrets this error.

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