Union Workers, Library Clash Over Cleaning

BY NATALIA KOZIKOWSKA
Staff Writer

Unionized custodians say they are being treated dirty by the Queens Library Administration.

According to the Local 1321 of District Council 27, the library has been replacing union workers with lower-paid private contractors to clean the Central Branch in Jamaica.

Adding insult to injury, union leaders claim the cash-strapped library has been giving Administration employees hefty salaries and raises, which they speculate is being paid for by the library’s extra savings.

According to John Hyslop, president of Local 1321, since 2011 the library spent $2.7 million in non-union administrative raises.

“These aren’t tax dollars, these are City funds,” he said. “The City should be supporting jobs with a decent salary and benefits and pensions and not hiring a private company that pays minimum wage with no benefits and then keep the profit.”

Hyslop also claims the Queens Library Administration gave $340,000 in raises to its non-union staff and between April 2011 and May 2012, the Queens Library president and CEO earned $379,313 – citing the website Seethroughny.net as his primary source.

Although it has not been confirmed, Hyslop and union workers have heard rumors that these hiring practices are also being used at other branches.

“I’ve heard rumors that now they [private contractors] are now being used at Flushing [Library],” he told the Queens Tribune.

But Joanne King, communications director for Queens Library, questioned the validity of those figures, arguing that “there is no way to determine that” and that the numbers sounded “odd.”

King, however, did not deny that a part of the library’s savings may have been allocated to staffers.

“It [the money saved] is part of the library’s operating budget and is used to provide public service,” she said in an email. “Every dollar is either allocated to books, to staff, to utilities or similar.”

Although Hyslop and union workers said they feel that hiring private contractors jeopardizes the quality of work, the Administration feels otherwise and defended their decision to hire hourly-rate contract cleaners to supplement full-time union custodians.

“In July, the Library increased the number of libraries being cleaned by hourly-rate contractors from 7 to 8,” the library said in an emailed statement. “The Library employs 71 full-time custodians who are valued members of the team and who provide a range of critical services above and beyond that of hourly-rate contract cleaners. No custodians have lost their jobs as a result of increasing hourly-rate contract cleaning.”

Local leaders have also chimed in on the debate. Last month, Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) wrote a letter to Galante, the library’s CEO and president, expressing his opposition to contract out custodial work instead of renewing contracts for union custodians.

“I truly believe in the Queens Library’s mission to serve all of our many diverse communities. However, I feel that your efforts undermine union jobs for these very same community members run counter to your mission,” the Councilman wrote.

Additional reporting by Joe Marvilli.

Reach Reporter Natalia Kozikowska at (718)357-7400 Ext. 123 or nkozikowska@queenspress.com