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Columns

Baumer: Response to Huidekoper from a library union member

By
Guest Columnist
Friday, December 5, 2014

Elizabeth “Beppie” Huidekoper is the executive vice president for finance and administration at the University. From what I can tell, she is very powerful. If Brown were an ATM machine, the pin number would probably be Huidekoper’s initials. I am very scared of her. I heard she once outsourced the entire mailroom.

Earlier this week, Huidekoper wrote an op-ed about the ongoing library union negotiations. This was of interest to me because I am a member of the library union and have been involved with the ongoing negotiations. My general sense from the article was that Huidekoper feels I, as a union member, don’t have the skills to respond to the changing needs of the library. Well, I guess I’ll just go crawl under a pile of books and wait until the library replaces it with a 400-foot-tall e-book kiosk.

Huidekoper began her op-ed praising the Brown community for its interest in the library negotiations. I can’t speak for the entire community, but her statement felt patronizing, like some kind of feudal lord walking among the people, petting their heads and praising everyone for how good they are at getting their heads patted.

The words “fair” and “equitable” appeared over and over throughout the op-ed. Many things about the article rubbed me the wrong way, but the repetition of these two words was particularly unpleasant. Every time Huidekoper used these words, I imagined her sprinkling powdered sugar on a burning tire and calling it a donut.

Obviously, the op-ed would have been easier to digest if she had been more honest, rather than forcing her “fair and equitable” propaganda. But when has any university ever said, “Hi, I know we’re supposed to promote higher learning, but really we’re just a business, and like every business, our priority is money. So yeah, technically we have to keep saying the people matter, but in the end it’s always going to be about dollar signs”?

One quick, sort of unrelated aside: The night after I read the op-ed, I had a dream one of the managers at the library brought me into a windowless room and then laughed at me while telling me I was no longer allowed to take a lunch break.

There was a time when I used to believe in Brown. A few years ago, I was an instructor here. A few years before that, I was a student. Now I am an employee. I have experienced Brown from every angle. I’ve learned, taught and worked at Brown. But it wasn’t until I began working here that I fully understood Brown for the business it is.

Before I end this column, it’s important to clarify a few points. In Huidekoper’s op-ed, she harped on the union’s current health insurance premiums, but she did not mention that the union premiums have risen from 7 percent to 9 percent to 12 percent over the course of the four-year contract.

The most recent increase took place Sept. 30, increasing the premium from 9 percent to 12 percent. There was also no mention about how the University went “self-insured” in 2008, which means it takes everyone’s insurance money, puts it in a fund, pays Blue Cross to use its name, pays for health costs out of this fund and keeps any savings. Another issue with the op-ed is the union numbers listed. Huidekoper fails to mention that since 2006-07, the library union is down 30 positions while the rest of the library is down only six positions.

I don’t know what else to say. It just feels very, very uncomfortable when a higher-up talks all about fairness and equity, but then picks only the numbers that support one side. The whole thing is sort of terrifying. Huidekoper is probably the third most important person at Brown, behind President Christina Paxson and Provost Vicki Colvin. And for her to use her position of power to basically say, “Hey everyone, look at the library union. They make a little more than you. Let’s get them … ” is absurd.

I’ll end with a story I once heard about Huidekoper. Years ago, she made an appearance at a library union negotiation. This was before my time, but from what I heard, someone asked her how much she made and she responded, “I earn every cent.” Well, Huidekoper, the next time you write a column about the library union, make sure you add how hardworking we are and how we, too, earn every cent we make.

Mark Baumer is a member of the Brown University Library. He got his MFA from Brown in 2011.

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  1. Library Staff says:

    Thank you for writing this and thank you for bringing up some very important facts that repudiate Ms. Huidekoper’s claims regarding the library union. The first is that the University is self-insured, and is in fact the recipient of employees’ health care premiums. The second is that the administration has been anything but hostile towards the very existence of the union staff, which has been reduced at 5X the rate of the other library staff. Their animosity seems to stem from the fact that we are not as “disposable” as they would like us to be.

  2. Thank you Mark! Keep fighting the good fight!

  3. Beppie Huidekoper has a ridiculous name and has had a ridiculous term.

  4. Amazingly you still seem to not understand how the university works. No, Brown is not a business. They are a non-profit. Yes, they care about money. They also care about promoting higher learning. These things are not incompatible. In fact, money is needed to actually promote higher learning. With the tiny financial resources Brown has compared to its Ivy peers, it should think carefully about where to use them. Unnessecary amounts of unionized library workers are not at the top of their spending list, and rightfully so.

    • Mark Baumer says:

      Thanks for your comment Brown 17…I understand the unionized library workers are not at the top of the spending list. We never asked to be, but we provide necessary services to not only the Library, but the entire campus. Cutting unionized library workers, hurts the services of the entire university.

      • TheRationale says:

        The same can be said for any other spending done by the university – that’s not the point. The point is that spending money on “overpriced” library workers produces less value than spending it somewhere else.

  5. In Huidekoper’s op-ed, she harped on the union’s current health insurance premiums, but she did not mention that the union premiums have risen from 7 percent to 9 percent to 12 percent over the course of the four-year contract.

    “WAAAAAAAAAAH.”

    1) You HAVE health insurance. A few million people DON’T.
    1a) It’s really, really GOOD insurance too, by the way.
    2) Out of everyone who HAS health insurance, you pay practically nothing for yours.

    My last job before coming to Brown, I made $12 per hour and paid $100 per WEEK for individual health insurance. The fact that I now pay in the neighborhood of $200 per month for family coverage is nothing short of a godsend. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s 20%.

    So please, tell me again how much you suffer paying twelve percent instead of nine.

    • Mark Baumer says:

      Hi B’Staff,
      Thank you for your comment.

      I understand your sentiments. Like you, before coming to Brown, I struggled through periods of not having insurance and paying insanely high rates for catastrophic insurance. It is with these previous experiences in mind that I am fighting.

      • Mark,

        I’m willing to bet the difference between 9% and 12% per month wouldn’t even get us both coffee on Thayer. Not buying the outrage.

  6. If you don’t believe in Brown, I encourage you to find another employer with whom you can place your trust. By the way, my health insurance premium is 50% and I work at Brown. Good luck in your job search.

    • Library Staff says:

      The Brown staffperson who pays 50% of their health insurance premium must work part time, so that is a little misleading.

      • A) I’m a full time middle management employee. Work well over 45 hours a week with no OT. B) You’re right, the 50% calc is misleading. It’s actually 42%. Don’t take this as a complaint. I love Brown. I’ve worked in the corporate sector. There are darn few employers that value employees as highly as Brown and that provide a comparable benefits package.

  7. Library Staff says:

    Since I work in a library, I decided to do a little research to investigate Ms. Huidekoper’s assertion that “the average salary of the Brown library union employee is above the average of the Ivy Plus peer group “. Starting hourly salaries in clerical and technical positions in libraries at Princeton are $17.05-$21.91; at Yale they are $16.33-25.78; at Harvard they are $19.78-$29.32. At Brown, they are $15.32-$21.15. These figures were obtained from the human resources websites of Princeton, Yale, and Harvard respectively. I hope this will dispel the notion that Brown’s library union workers are somehow overpaid.

    • But very few of Brown’s unionized library staff are making starting hourly salaries. The majority of them have been here a very long time and are at the highest level of salary that they can attain. So the above is really irrelevant.

      • Library Staff says:

        Maximum hourly salaries for clerical and technical positions in libraries at Princeton are $25.57-$32.87; at Harvard they are $29.80-$49.52; while at Brown they are $21.09-$29.66. Yale does not share the maximum hourly salaries for clerical and technical workers in their libraries, which is why I didn’t include these figures in the first place.

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