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University News

Library workers’ union reaches new contract agreement

New contract creates labor management committee, fills three unionized positions

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Following nearly three months of negotiations, unionized library workers unanimously agreed to the University’s proposed contract earlier this month, said Karen McAninch, business agent for the library workers’ union, United Service and Allied Workers of Rhode Island.

The old contract expired Sept. 30 and was extended to allow for ongoing negotiations. The new contract is set to expire in September 2017 and includes changes that union members hope will lead to professional development and more unionized employees, McAninch said.

Of the five unionized positions vacated recently, the University agreed to fill two with full-time unionized employees and one with a semi-permanent employee, McAninch said. But filling union positions is “a moving target” because vacancies frequently open up, she added.

In the new contract, the University agreed to omit earlier proposals related to disciplinary proceedings, storm day policies and health insurance rates.

In a previous version of the contract, the University proposed extending the amount of time a verbal, written or suspension order would remain on an employee’s record. The new contract leaves the current disciplinary policies unchanged, McAninch said. A proposal to let the University determine storm days, as opposed to a city-wide parking ban, was also taken off the table, she added.

The expected healthcare contribution of library workers will remain at the current rate of 12 percent, though an earlier proposal suggested raising the rate to 14 percent.

“We’re pleased that the library union and University negotiators were able to reach a fair and competitive agreement,” wrote Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations, in an email to The Herald. “The University values its employees and appreciates the many contributions made by our library staff.”

Under the new contract, a labor management committee comprising three University administrators and three unionized workers formed. The group will meet once a month to discuss training and job opportunities for unionized workers, McAninch said.

Though a similar committee formed during the last contract’s negotiations in 2010, it was ineffective due to infrequent meetings, McAninch said. “This one has a lot more bells and whistles, so we’re hoping it will be more effective,” she said, citing the inclusion of a library administrator as a positive change.

The digitization of the libraries has contributed to the decreasing number of unionized library workers, said Mark Baumer MFA ’11, senior library associate specialist and a member of the negotiating team.

As the library becomes “more and more web-based,” most employees hired to do technical work are not unionized, Baumer said. “We understand that some of the work we’ve done in the past no longer exists,” he said, adding that there is less need for catalog work, such as putting call numbers on books and entering them in a system.

The new contract makes training programs and workshops on the library’s digital offerings more available to unionized workers, McAninch said.

Baumer said that “in the last couple years there’s been very little training offered” to unionized employees, noting that unionized library workers have not had access to training on book preservation or on the digitization process for large manuscripts.

After gathering and circulating a petition to show support for library workers during the ongoing negotiations, the Student Labor Alliance held a final march at University Hall Dec. 8, said Stoni Tomson ’15, an SLA member. The student group also facilitated a sit-in at the Rockefeller Library during reading period that about 30 students attended, Tomson said.

Without the support of SLA, “we wouldn’t have gotten the contract we got,” Baumer said.

Looking ahead, Tomson said SLA will “keep fighting” to hold University administrators accountable to the needs of library workers during future contract negotiations.

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