BY NATALIA KOZIKOWSKA
Queens Library has given some of its nonunion workers raises and promotions, further fueling tensions between the Administration and Local 1321.
In August, the Queens Tribune reported that the Queens Library Administration was replacing its union workers with lower-paid private contractors to clean the Central Branch in Jamaica. Similar practices have since been confirmed at the Flushing Library Branch.
Joanne King, communications director for Queens Library, said the cash-strapped library made the 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 the August email. “Every dollar is either allocated to books, to staff, to utilities or similar.”
With the news that the Queens Library Administration has given many of its private contract workers promotions and raises retroactive to July 1, 2013, John Hyslop, president of Local 1321, said union workers are becoming increasingly frustrated.
“They claimed they did not have enough money to hire union custodians, however, they have enough money to give raises to their non-union staff retroactive to July 1, 2013,” Hyslop said.
“We feel like we are being lied to constantly, we feel we are being undermined constantly,” he added. “Morale is at an all time low. We are very stressed out and we feel that when we see raises given to nonunion staff, we see our jobs undermined.”
King did admit the Administration had given many of its nonunion workers raises but noted that the library has staff whose jobs are not part of the collective bargaining agreement.
“Wages for those staff had been substantially frozen for almost five years due to budget shortfalls. Wage freezes did not apply to union staff, who did get raises as was stipulated in the union contract,” she wrote in an email. “Non-union staff also had some of their benefits cut due to the budget shortfalls.”
She also noted that nonunion staffers were only given raises if they merited them.
The Queens Library does not set the wages for union employees or decide whether or not to give them. The union’s contract is negotiated with the New York City Office of Labor Relations.
King, who said the library’s financial predicaments have remained unchanged since the summer, said it was standard practice to contract out custodial work.
“It is expressly permitted in an agreement between the union and the library, and was agreed to by the union,” she wrote. “We have contracted out some custodial for many years in several locations.”
By contracting out, King said, Queens Library is able to keep its buildings clean and safe.
“It is about having enough people to keep buildings clean and safe, as library customers and staff deserve. And it is about having the flexibility to deploy custodial staff where they are needed and when they are needed,” she wrote. “One of the reasons we recently created new promotional opportunities for custodians was to give them an upward career path. Something like 30 percent of our custodians will be promoted into the new job classifications, and given higher salaries as a result.”
But Hyslop disagrees and believes that contracting not only impacts the quality of work but also takes away from public service.
“By hiring nonunion staff and giving them raises, it translates into less public service,” he argued. “You have fewer librarians doing programs, you have fewer clerks circulating books, you have fewer custodians keeping the branches clean.”
As a result of the ongoing contractual dispute, last Friday the union took its firsts steps in bringing the Queens Library Administration to the State Public Employment Relations Board.
“Because of the contract, we consider this a term of bargaining affecting our membership and what we do,” Hyslop said.
Reach Natalia Kozikowska at (718)357-7400 Ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org or @nkozikowska.