Union-busting In Tacoma

Library Board Moves Boldly into the 18th Century


Editorial By: Michael Pellegrini


Using tactics and attitudes more common to the late 1800's, the Tacoma Public Library appears to be heading towards a strike with its Page employees.


The Library Pages and Library Employees are represented by AFSCME, Locals 120-LP and 120-L. Covered in these units are 100 Library Pages, all part-timers, and 92 Library Employees, 40 of which are in part-time positions.


In negotiations with the Library since September 1997, the two units have been in mediation since last February. Only a few unresolved but quite contentious issues are left on the bargaining table.


For the Pages, the possible strike issues are higher wages, and creating twelve new 20 hour a week positions - positions which would be eligible for benefits. The Pages are also asking for a nine percent pay raise over two years; the library has offered six percent.


For the other library employees, the issues are getting their annual performance raises on time, and making four more full-time positions through attrition.


According to Carolyn Cohen, Chairman of the Library Employees Local, the library won't even discuss most of the issues. "They won't even talk about making new full-time positions or the performance raises," she said.


"Our proposal to create four new full-time positions would actually save the library money. Right now, they pay double benefits. If they could combine two part-time positions when someone leaves, they could save by paying only one set of benefits."


"It would help turnover, too. Right now over 40% of our members work part-time - not because they want to, but because that's all the library offers. Who can exist today, working only part-time? So, we have high turnover. With more full-time positions, we'll end up with a more stable work force, as well as save the library money."


For the Pages, the issues are more basic. Limited to 17.4 hours per week maximum, the present gross pay for Pages is well below the poverty level at less than $500 per month. Pages do not currently qualify for any benefits.


The other library employees in Cohen's group mostly make a better hourly wage, but again, almost half work part-time. So while this group qualifies for benefits, many do not make a livable monthly income.


But while the library has been reticent to spend money on its employees, management has fared much better. As examples, the salary of the Library Director is about $92,000 per year; The Assistant Director makes about $80,000 per year; The Library Personnel Director makes about $75,000 per year. According to Cohen, "That's the highest paid library personnel director in the state. And there are population-wise, 12 larger systems in the state, and budget-wise, eight larger systems. Their salaries are way out of line for an organization with only 150 FTEs."


The library has a long history of bitter and messy disputes with the union. Three years ago, the union requested pay and benefit data and other public records which the library flatly refused to produce. It wasn't until last February after losing several successive court battles, that the library finally started to produce the documents.


Apparently unable to learn from their earlier experience, the Library has refused to disclose similar data to the union in the current negotiations. In response, the union has filed a series of unfair labor practice charges for that and other bad-faith bargaining.


The first amendment has figured heavily in some of the other disputes the union has had with the library. One long and drawn out dispute which is currently headed towards a grievance arbitration, concerns the posting of union material on bulletin boards.


Not surprisingly, the Library is represented in its labor struggles by a Bellevue law firm which specializes in anti-union campaigns.


This whole ugly mess is shameful. It's clear from the history of the Library's labor-management relations, that they've taken a sort of 18th century union-busting philosophy to heart. Some of the positions the Library has taken, particularly in regard to the disclosure of public documents and the limitation of First Amendment free speech rights is nothing short of asinine.


The bulk of the library employees are kept in economic subjugation, by being forced to work in predominantly part-time, underpaid positions, which in the case of the Pages, don't even have benefits. We can only assume it's dedication that keeps these people going - it certainly can't be the money.


All while library management officials pay themselves record salaries and spend many thousands of taxpayer dollars on their union-busting attorneys.


This is dead wrong. Public employers have a moral and ethical duty to treat their employees humanely, with dignity, and to pay them a livable wage. There is no place for this sort of despicable anti-employee conduct within the public sector.


The Mayor and the City Council should investigate this matter at once and force the library to deal fairly with its employees. This whole issue has gone on way too long. Something must be done to reign in and discipline the library board and administrators, because it's clear they are out of control.


And after all is said and done, if there isn't enough money in the budget to pay for everything the union's requested, perhaps they can scare some up by firing several of the grossly over-paid administrators.