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Huidekoper: Perspectives on library union negotiations

Guest Columnist
Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Updated Sunday, Dec. 7 at 8:53 p.m.

The Brown community of students, faculty members and staff members is unique in its commitment to advancing fair, supportive and just treatment for all. It is this quality that has inspired interest in the current negotiations taking place between the University and the library union. The interest and concern are appreciated and important, and it is in this spirit that I am providing some context and information.

People are central to every aspect of Brown’s mission. Therefore, we seek to attract and retain talented faculty members, students and staff members to engage in teaching, research and service at the highest level. For our students, this requires exceptional academic and campus life experiences, a safe and supportive environment and substantial financial support. For faculty and staff, it means providing competitive salaries and benefits, facilities and resources to support changing needs in the advancement of education and knowledge creation and offering opportunities for skill development and professional growth. With close to 4,000 employees and 8,500 students at Brown, we are always assessing our policies and practices to ensure that we are being fair, equitable and current, while at the same time being sensitive to the fact that most of our expenses are covered by students and their families.

The role of Brown’s library is to support the University’s educational and research mission. It serves as the local repository for and the principal gateway to current information and the scholarly record. It serves as a collection, connection and classroom, primarily for the University’s current and future students and faculty members, and it serves other colleagues in the University community and our regional, national and global communities of learning and scholarship. It operates through providing access to books, databases, e-journals, e-catalogues, remote storage, space and technology and — most importantly — through its people. The way in which the library achieves its mission is constantly evolving, as illustrated in the Brown video on the 21st-century library that I encourage viewing.

There are 123 staff positions in the library. Of those, 61 are union and 62 are non-union. All provide valuable support to the Brown community. We are currently negotiating with the library union to extend the most recent contract, which expired Sept. 30, with some changes to both parties’ address concerns and the University’s academic needs.

After more than two months of negotiation resulting in some significant — but not enough — progress, both parties agreed to invite in a mediator to help find common ground. The mediator has been at work for a few weeks. During this period, information about the issues being discussed in these negotiations — including compensation, like salaries and benefits, as well as union positions, training and respect — has been distributed around the community and requires clarification.

As noted above, across the board, we seek to be competitive in the marketplace as well as fair and equitable. The library union has six levels of workers. For each level, the average salary of the Brown library union employee is above the average of the Ivy Plus peer group and significantly above regularly surveyed nationwide college-level peer groups.

To be fair and equitable to all other campus employees, we are trying to balance union contract increases with how we are positioned in the marketplace among library workers and with all other employee groups at Brown. In terms of benefits, we have already agreed to enhanced professional development, access to the childcare subsidy program and the establishment of a labor management committee to discuss ongoing training and staffing needs. We have been discussing an increase in health care premium contributions, which are now at 12 percent. Comparably paid non-union employees at Brown contribute 15 percent for individual plans and almost 20 percent for family plans.

One area of interest is the actual number of union positions. Over the last 10 years, there has been a decline in both union and non-union library staff positions. It is noteworthy that over the same period, the total number of union positions in public safety, facilities and dining has increased. These shifts reflect a changing environment and evolving needs. The decline in library positions is largely a reflection of the changing nature of library materials and their use. Since 2007, book circulation has dropped by 30 percent, resulting in less shelving, lending and transactional work. Over the same period, access to electronic collections, journals and search tools has exploded, requiring different skills to respond to changing user needs. University libraries everywhere are changing the way they work in response to the evolving information landscape.

We know that this pace and type of change will continue, and Brown will need the flexibility and capacity to respond. The union has asked Brown to commit to having no fewer than the current number of union positions into the future. It would be irresponsible for the University to lock in any number of any type of positions anywhere on campus given the dynamic environment. Moreover, such a quota of positions is a prerequisite not held by any other part of the Brown workforce — not by faculty members, administrators, Brown’s other unions nor the general non-unionized staff.

Most troubling has been the inference that the University does not value our union employees. We absolutely do value our union employees and seek to provide an environment that supports ongoing growth and professional development. In this negotiation, in addition to ensuring fair and equitable compensation, we have committed to establishing a labor management committee to provide more training and development opportunities.

Brown is dedicated to being an employer of choice, offering the compensation and environment that are attractive and supportive and advance our mission as an exceptional institution of teaching and research. We hope to reach a resolution with the library union soon in a manner that is consistent with our values of being balanced, fair and respectful.

Beppie Huidekoper is the executive vice president for finance and administration.

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  1. Library Staff says:

    The library contract negotiations have stalled over just one issue -adequate staffing. What this piece neglects to mention is that the University’s libraries are open longer hours than ever before. In order to keep the libraries open from a minimum of 8am -2am (and longer during reading and exam periods)

  2. Marie Malchodi says:

    Sins of omission, Ms. Huidekoper: yes, there are fewer jobs overall in the library. Work has been lost to technology, but at the same time, lots of new work has been created by technology. The library’s administration has classified nearly all the new work as “professional” and requiring more skill and knowledge (really, more degrees) than a unionized position would. In some cases, the classification seems almost arbitrary: though highly skilled positions, it would be hard to argue the need for a specific professional degree for them. And there are unionized positions in the library already that require a high degree of knowledge and training. This is what we are talking about when we talk about not being respected or valued. The university could have seen this new work as an opportunity to show
    its commitment to education and job equity instead of an opportunity to
    reduce the numbers and bargaining power of the Library bargaining unit. We have been put off from the discussion of training and professional development for years by the formation of committees that are supposed to address the issue, but rarely meet, have no teeth, and report nothing back to staff. This is why we are asking for more than vague assurances and committee formation.

  3. If the herald has guest columnists, can they tell us who these people are? Is this a library employee? A university budget office employee? A providence local?

    • Well now that I’ve read the responses from later in the week, I can see that Huidekoper is Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration. Would have been nice of you (the BDH, I don’t expect Huidekoper to name drop herself) to mention this somewhere on this page

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