Good News!

Burlington, Vermont Library Workers Reclassified

The staff of the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, Vermont is celebrating the successful conclusion of a three-year fight to have many positions reclassified and adjusted for parity with other city workers. The Fletcher Free is Burlington’s public library and is funded primarily with property taxes in Vermont’s largest city, which has a population of 39,000.

Twenty out of twenty-three library employees had their positions reclassified. Two of the three positions that weren’t reclassed had been classified shortly before the major reclassification process was initiated and management felt that the one remaining position was fairly classified. Amber Collins, Assistant Library Director, who initiated the reclassification requests in June 2002, reports that the annual cost to the City for the adjustment will be $32,700. Library positions effected by the reclassification are: page, library assistant, youth services clerk, library technical assistant, acquisitions supervisor, librarian I, and assistant library director. The reclassified jobs include full and part-time positions.

Collins says the real issue for Library employees was one of comparable worth. Many of the library’s job descriptions had not been reviewed by the city’s human resources office since the late 1980s when the City’s current classification system was adopted. At that time, positions throughout city departments with comparable functions and responsibilities were classified and assigned like grades. The initial process took into account factors such as: knowledge and skills, mental demands, accountability and working conditions. As the years passed, however, several things happened that weaken the system’s planned goal of ensuring “comparable worth”.

  • As positions became vacant, job descriptions were updated, an in many cases reclassified before a new person was hired. The Library, which has a very low staff turnover (the last full time professional librarian was hired in 1998!), almost never got the benefit of the turnover.

  • The City’s operating principal concerning reclassification requests: If you don’t have the money in your budget to pay for it – don’t request it; and

  • The labor union that negotiates for Library employees was generally unwilling to take up the Library’s cause.

The end result was that revenue-producing departments were able to create and reclassify positions, while positions in non-revenue departments like the library remained stagnant.

To further add to the problem, the human resources department wasn’t exercising oversight to ensure the intent of the original classification plan – comparable worth. To illustrate the point, Collins cites an example that took place in the city several years ago when clerks in the City’s public works and clerk/treasurer’s offices were reorganized. The job descriptions were updated and rewritten for these two City departments while the library assistants, who perform like duties and had previously shared the same classification, were left behind. In this instance, clerks in the public works and the clerk/treasurer’s offices were bumped up two grades, while Library clerks’ positions stayed the same.

The road to reclassification for Library staff was not an easy one. The process involved meeting with the human resources director to outline the scope of the work, filling out individual desk audits, completing job questionnaires and, finally, rewriting job descriptions. In January 2004, over two and a half years after the process began; the City’s human resources director submitted a report with his recommendations. Collins felt that the report did not correct the inequities, and advised library staff that if they wished to pursue the matter further, they should file a grievance with AFSCME, their local union, which they did in March 2004.

The process remained stalled until early 2005, when the City hired a new Human Resources Director, and the Mayor made it clear that he wanted the issue resolved. At that point, Library Job descriptions and questionnaires were dusted off and reviewed by the new human resources director, who made a recommendation to the City’s board of finance that seven library positions be reclassified. These recommendations were brought to the board of finance by Collins on June 6, 2005 and passed unanimously without discussion, awarding Library staff retroactive pay back to June 2002.