Winners of the SirsiDynix ALA-APA Award Spread the Word about Salaries

In April and May we are featuring the winners of the 2006 SirsiDynix—ALA-APA Award for Outstanding Achievement in Promoting Salaries and Status for Library Workers. Elissa Cadillic is the current President of AFSCME, Council 93, Local 1526 at the Boston Public Library, Boston, Massachusetts (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees). In April, we interviewed James Fish, Director of Baltimore County Public Libraries.

LW: Describe your process of advocating for better wages.

EC: AFSCME, Local 1526 consists of approximately 300 members, including Branch Library Assistants (BLAs), Clerical (BCs) and Mechanical (BMs) staff. A group of BLA-2s in the branch libraries realized that the work they were being asked to do deserved upgrades. At that time, a package was put together detailing the reasons why they should be upgraded. The BLAs took their current job descriptions and listed their responsibilities and extra duties that were not listed and gathered letters of support from their branch librarians (supervisors) and the community. We wanted something to prove to the negotiating team and the Library that said, “Hey, these people deserve.” and “they deserve because of XYZ.”

During contract negotiations for 1999-2001, the proposal was put on the table. At that time, the Library and the Union agreed to do a formal study on a group of positions that were looking to be updated. A committee was created which included two senior members of management and two Executive Board members of AFSCME Local 1526. We created a study based on classification analysis with the following criteria: Knowledge, Critical Thinking and Impact. The survey, which consisted of approximately 77 questions, was sent to a selection of members whose positions were asking to be upgraded, but also to others whose positions had recently been upgraded. These recently upgraded positions would be used as benchmark positions to judge the others against.

The committee first took the responses from the benchmark positions and graded them according to our criteria. We then took the rest of the responses and rated them. Once we had scores, we put all of our studied positions in to table. By doing so, we could compare the positions to our two benchmark positions.

We found the benchmark positions did prove that they were properly regarded in previous years and that the positions that the union was asking to be upgraded clearly showed that they were above the benchmark positions. The branch positions that are being upgraded in August 2006 came out significantly higher than their counterparts in the Central Library. So, even though they had the same grade level (BLA2) they scored more than 100 points higher. This clearly demonstrated a significant increase. The supervisory positions (BLA4 and BLA5) also scored higher than their Central Library counterparts.

After the results proved the need for upgrades for certain positions, the library took it to the budget committee for approval. The union sent it to the Mayor and City Councilors. Unfortunately our timing was such that the September 11th tragedy occurred, and budget decisions were put on hold. Even though we had the backing of Management at the BPL, we were not going to get our upgrades. So, we had to put them back on the table for the last round of negotiations (2002–2006) and the negotiation team decided that we weren’t settling without it. We had proven over and over that the upgrades were well- deserved.  After a long time and with help from our larger council, we not only won our upgrades, we also won a 10% increase over a 3+ year period for everyone.

LW: How did you develop your own survey?

EC: We borrowed from other places, including different city surveys. We had many meetings discussing what needed to be measured and how to get the responses that proved or didn’t prove the need for upgrades. The committee came up with questions that could be asked in a variety of ways to evaluate the answers. Each of the criteria had a range of questions that would allow the responses to be rated. As a member of this committee, believe me – it was very time consuming and sometimes very frustrating, but in the end, I believe we came out with a survey that can be adapted and used again.

LW: How do you feel unions play an integral part in libraries?

EC: I may be biased, but I think a union helps to keep the workplace stable. Unions create a foundation and help to provide an equal playing field for men and women as well as maintaining a level of benefits. Sometimes issues that arise that without a union would cripple the average municipal worker. A prime example is health insurance. If this benefit was taken out of collected bargaining, most of my members who had to pay out-of-pocket would not be able to pay their rent, buy food or commute to work. The union is constantly negotiating better wages and benefits to allow their members to keep pace with the rising cost of living. They aim to keep people from having to put in 70-80 hour weeks while being paid for only 35. In terms of promotions, unions help build career ladders. In the case of our branch upgrades, we will have 76 higher positions then we did before. In our current round of negotiations, we will put other positions that showed they deserved upgrades on the table and push for those to be awarded.

LW: How have job descriptions changed with technology?

EC: The way things are automated has changed. We’ve had people start by working on non-electric typewriters and doing everything by hand. An example is our process of getting labels on items. This has become streamlined by printing them out on a printer in bulk, instead of typing them individually.  The training necessary to use updated technology is something that is addressed by retraining current staff. Many of the younger hires already have those skill sets. Technology may have changed the way we find information or process our materials but on the whole, the actual job that needs to be done is still getting done; people still need their books checked out, and people need a physical person to answer their question. At the end of the day there’re still people doing those tasks.

LW: What is a metaphor to describe the process?

EC: It was definitely a fight. You get to a point and you’ve made your case, and at the last minute, people say, “Oh well, there is only so much in the pie and if you take a piece for 76 people, you’re taking away from everybody else.” Or, “You’ve proved it but we really can’t justify spending the money that way.” You can’t give up. “If you keep pounding away at a nail with a hammer, eventually the nail head sinks into the wood. ”

LW: What advice can you give?

EC: Agree to do a formal study, but be prepared for something to happen once you have concluded your study and try to get assurances up front. Sometimes you must repeat the same process over and over. Don’t give up. Get testimonials from the people doing the job and their supervisors, as well as the community.  In our case, one government documents BLA had been in the same position for a long time. In this case, as someone left the position in his department, the job was reviewed and then upgraded. Since he had never left his original position, his position was never upgraded. During his testimony to the City, he moved all of us to tears. Here was a dedicated public servant who because he truly loved his job was punished for not moving on. Because of the study and his testimony, his was the only position immediately upgraded at the ratification of the contract. The day we signed the contact, he got his upgrade. The branch upgrades will happen in August 2006.

Reach out to other places, and see what they are doing to try to increase salaries and/or benefits. If you are an association, considering becoming a part of a larger union. AFSCME represents more than 10,000 members working in libraries. It has been helpful to be affiliated with a larger union and get assistance and support to make changes in our workplace. We negotiate with the Library and the City of Boston and, while we do our own negotiations, sometimes it is nice to be able to work together with the other City of Boston AFSCME Council 93 unions over common issues.

If your location isn’t unionized, remember that there is strength in numbers. The more you can stick together over issues the better off you are. I do think that especially now with libraries being one of the first cuts in budget lines from the federal, state and local governments that the more community involvement you can get, the better off you are. I also believe that without a union in larger public libraries, people may not be getting livable wages and may soon lose benefits that are sorely needed, such as health insurance.

AFSCME Local 1526 is proud of our last contract, our upgrades, our wage package and the language changes to our contract. Securing that contract proved that all the hard work, long hours and the feeling of banging your head against the wall on many occasions is all worthwhile. It meant a lot to us to be nominated for an award for our work in securing salary increases from the ALA-APA. When I was notified that we won, I felt proud of all the hard work that the negotiating team, the library assistants and I did to help secure a better future for my members. When this process began, I was one of the BLA2s who felt strongly about pushing for upgrades for the job that I was being asked to do. While I am no longer a BLA2 or even a branch staff member, I could not be more pleased that in only few months, they will be rewarded for their patience and perseverance. I hope other places realize that hard work and determination do pay off in the end.