University News

Students, staff ‘stand up’ for library worker rights

Staff Writer
Friday, October 15, 2010

About 60 to 70 students, faculty members, library workers and Providence community members gathered Thursday on the steps of the Rockefeller Library to protest changes to library employees’ contract at a rally sponsored by the Student Labor Alliance.

The contract was originally going to expire Sept. 30, but was extended until Thursday. It was extended again at Thursday’s negotiations, which went until 10 p.m., and more meetings have been scheduled for next week, wrote Karen McAninch ’74, an agent for the union representing many library employees.

“Workers’ rights are under attack!” Library Technical Assistant Andrew Pereira yelled into a megaphone.

“Stand up. Fight back,” cried the crowd in response.

The University wants to negotiate an increase in health care co-pays from 6 percent to 15 percent, Pereira said. Contract alterations may also affect workers’ hours.

 “Librarians might be asked to work shifts to 2 a.m.,” he said. “People have families to go home to. This is totally unfair.”

Professor of English William Keach spoke out against the University at the rally. “They always speak about fair share. And yet is it fair to ask library workers to more than double their co-pay for their health insurance?” he asked.

Though Brown is still facing the effects of the economic downturn, “they’re looking to people who do, in my view, some of the most valuable work here at the university,” Keach said. The University “picked, I think, the wrong group of Brown workers to try to balance the books on the backs of,” he added.

Keach said that his work as a faculty member is dependent on the efforts of library workers.

“Brown values its employees, and our goals in this process are consistent with remaining an employer of choice: to offer competitive and equitable salaries and benefits for all employees, and a positive and desirable work environment,” wrote Joe Sarno, Brown’s Director of Labor and Employee Relations in an e-mail to The Herald on Wednesday.

SLA member Elizabeth Caldwell ’12 said rally supporters wanted the University to know there is a group beyond just library workers concerned about the issues on the table, and that “students are going to have to be dealt with, that Brown alumni, that the Providence community more broadly is going to have to be dealt with if they want to try to put these cuts on library workers.”

Local politicians supported the library workers. Christopher Blazejewski, candidate for state representative in Rhode Island’s second district, spoke of the need to continue to fight for good health care during his commentary at the rally. “We will fight with you because you are fighting for all Rhode Islanders,” he said.

Nancy Hart, senior library specialist, said that organized labor is the critical issue of our time.  “We’re losing the middle class. Back in the 1950’s when the economy was strong, 35 percent of the working force, both public and private were unionized. Now, everything is going down the tubes and only 12 percent of workers are unionized.”

Hart said the University’s job eliminations last spring affected many library workers and drew large support from the community for the workers.

Following the rally, Caldwell said she thought the event was successful.

“We had a collection of students, but also as you saw from the speakers, we had staff and faculty members here as well.  There are lots of people from the Providence community here, other labor unions represented, as well as many alumni,” she said.  

“I think this shows that this is something that people in the Brown community really care about, and something that affects the larger Providence and Rhode Island community as well,” she added.

— With additional reporting by Alex Bell