BY NATALIA KOZIKOWSKA and TRISHA SAKHUJA
Queens Library CEO Thomas Galante was in the hot seat at Wednesday’s City Council oversight hearing.
For nearly three hours, council members grilled the chief executive officer about his $391,594 salary and $140,000 worth of office renovations – perks Galante referred to as “average” compensation in the non-profit sector earlier in the week.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), the newly appointed Majority Leader, who is also chairman of the Cultural Affairs and Libraries Committee, called for the oversight hearing following media allegations that taxpayer dollars were used to fund the new office space, which includes a private outdoor smoking area.
Those who participated in the hearing were particularly troubled by Galante’s six-figure salary and lavish upgrades when weighing in the library’s massive budget cuts, which have resulted in more than 100 employees being laid off over the past five years.
The council members seemed perplexed that library employees have gone without raises since 2008, but Galante is earning more than Mayor Bill de Blasio.
In regards to the many library employees who have gone without raises, Galante said the library’s budget took a hit beginning in 2008, when it saw multi-million dollar government operating funding reductions every six months.
“Today, our government operating funding is $16 million (or 17 percent) less than it was in 2008,” he said. “Since 80 percent of our operating budget funds the cost of employees to operate our libraries, these significant funding reductions resulted in a hiring freeze and the reduction of 253 positions.”
Galante said hard-working employees have not seen a general wage increase since 2008, which is a matter of their contract, negotiated between the City and the Union on a City-wide basis and not within the Library’s control.
“That said, since 2008, the Library has provided 513 well-deserved promotions for our employees,” he said. “This includes 33 custodial, maintenance and logistics employees, 63 clerical employees and 331 librarians. These individuals were recognized for their hard work, and rewarded with higher titles and well-deserved salary increases.”
He went on to say that last fall, library officials developed and implemented a reclassification of the community libraries that created promotional opportunities for public service employees across all categories, resulting in 15 of their custodial employees being promoted in the last month.
Galante’s Six-Figure Salary
As for Galante’s high annual salary, Public Advocate Letitia James said there has been a lot of media attention surrounding his executive pay, which comes from City tax-payers and is approved by the Library’s board.
“Is it your position that this salary that you receive is consistent with Library presidents in this nation?” she said.
Galante said he agrees that his salary is not consistent with many of the nation’s presidents, but went on to argue his salary is pegged according to what other non-profits across the City pay on average, which is the “normal competitive amount.”
Councilwoman Liz Crowley (D-Middle Village) continued to press Galante’s annual salary by stating his annual compensation is too high based on other non-profits that do not rely on City tax-payers as much as the Central Library does.
Galante said he believes his compensation is “fair.”
Crowley said his salary should be aligned with that of a City Commissioner and his management staff should be aligned with that a City management.
“You said your last five years have been tough, for you, for your management, but the numbers I have seen indicate that you have received $32,000 in raises, that the top management of Queens Library have received $10 to $32,000 in raises, all this while your workforce has been reduced by 253 in the field,” Crowley said.
Furthermore, in 2010 when the library’s budget underwent negotiation, Crowley reminded Galante that he promised there would be no more layoffs, but 44 library employees were compensated that year alone.
“Your workforce in the library is continuously asked to do more with less,” Crowley said.
Galante was repeatedly asked if he earns outside income by several councilmembers, including Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park).
Galante insisted that he will not talk about his outside income, because this hearing is held to learn about the library’s operations.
“I am disappointed by some of your answers today,” Ulrich said. “Every other elected official who is a stakeholder and an investor in the public library system has a lot of work to do to restore the public confidence in our ability to serve them with public libraries.”
Outsourcing Union Jobs
Van Bramer said he opposes outsourcing contract workers and pressured Galante about the Queens Library Administration’s decision to replace its union workers with lower-paid private contractors to clean the Central Branch in Jamaica and Flushing Library Branch.
Galante responded by saying “it really is a matter of money in the end.”
Galante said many difficult decisions have been made along the way, including the use of contract cleaners. He went on to say that by hiring contract cleaners, they saved half a million dollars a year.
“We opened the Flushing library on Sundays with that savings, which is about a $200,000 cost, and we implemented a promotional advancement program for our custodial staff, librarian staff [and] our clerical staff,” he said.
“Our custodians are the best there are,” Galante said. “They handle a wide variety of responsibilities that are crucial to library operations. However, given the operating funding reductions and looming operating budget reductions in the City’s Financial Plan, it became necessary to further supplement their work with contract cleaners. The right to do so was negotiated between the Union and the Library. Not a single custodian lost his or her job.”
In August, Joanne King, communications director for Queens Library, claimed the cash-strapped library made the difficult decision to contract out in an effort to make room in the budget for additional resources.
“It [the money saved] is part of the library’s operating budget and is used to provide public service,” King wrote in an email from August. “Every dollar is either allocated to books, to staff, to utilities or similar.”
Galante said that even though he has the highest regard for the union that represents his hard-working employees, they do not always agree.
“But we share a commitment to high-quality library service; to more good jobs that people can raise families on; and to working together to make a significant difference in people’s lives,” Galante said.
On a closing note, Van Bramer said he looks forward to Galante’s commitment to ending the practice of contracting out the Library’s custodial staff.
“This hearing, while difficult for you and your team here, is an important piece of our oversight responsibilities and getting us to a better place, but it does not in any way diminish the importance of the library and the amazing work that is done at the libraries,” Van Bramer said.