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Union pushes for increased benefits for library workers

As number of union workers falls, students express solidarity during negotiations

With brightly colored flyers and petitions in hand, unionized library workers and Brown Student Labor Alliance members gathered Friday to show support for workers in the ongoing library contract negotiations with the University.

Unionized workers are seeking to gain more opportunities for professional development, lower health insurance contributions, higher wage increases and union growth, multiple sources said.

The contract under which library workers are employed officially expired Sept. 30, and “has been extended so that negotiators from both sides can continue to work together to reach a new agreement,” wrote Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations, in an email to The Herald.

Karen McAninch, business agent for the library workers’ union, United Service and Allied Workers of Rhode Island, said the negotiations process is moving slowly primarily due to discussions about staffing.

“There’s been a history of erosion of the bargaining unit,” McAninch said. The bargaining unit comprises the 61 unionized library employees that the contract directly affects, a number that has been on the decline due to decreased hiring of union workers. In 2007 there were 92 union members out of a total of 164 total employees, and today there are 61 union members out of a total of 127 employees, according to USAW-RI figures.

Most of the recently hired library workers are not union members and have filled technical positions at the Sciences Library, said Mark Baumer, a library guide at the SciLi and member of the negotiating team.

“I feel like there is not much concern for the human presence in the library,” said another worker, who requested anonymity out of concern of retribution for speaking publicly.

The University has worked to create new library staff positions to encourage the development of the libraries’ digital resources, but “those jobs are not being offered to folks in the bargaining unit,” McAninch said. The result is a divided library atmosphere between unionized library workers and non-union professionals, she said adding that “it’s almost like a Berlin wall.”

The union is advocating for growth and development within the union, and suggested in negotiations that current unionized workers be allowed to shadow the professionals hired to do technical work in order to integrate the two work forces, Baumer said.

Union workers would also like their health insurance contribution to remain at its current rate of 12 percent, McAninch said. The University proposed an increase of 2 percent over the next four years, to 14 percent when the contract currently in negotiations would expire on Sept. 30, 2018.

The University also proposed a 2 percent increase in wages for this year, and 1.75 percent increases for the next three years until 2018. The bargaining unit is requesting a 4 percent increase to cover cost of living increases and increases in health insurance, Baumer wrote in an email to The Herald.

The University’s proposed contract would also change storm pay policy, which previously allowed city-declared parking bans to determine when employees either get to stay home or be paid overtime for coming in. The current contract proposal would make it the University’s decision whether staff can stay home or are paid overtime for coming in on storm days.

“They’re taking off language that’s been on the table since the eighties,” Baumer said.

Several library workers said staffing remains their largest concern.

Nancy Hart, senior library specialist at the Rockefeller Library, University employee of 21 years and union member, said “there used to be much more integration between the professional staff and the people who work in circulation.” The digitalization of the library “affects every institution in terms of workflow and number of employees,” she said, adding that “a lot of the library’s resources in the past year have been shifting from print to digital.”

“Brown has spent something like $50 million renovating the Hay but at the same time it is not respecting workers’ rights at the bargaining table,” said Stoni Tomson ’15, a member of Student Labor Alliance. “Students have power in being able to hold the University accountable to respect workers’ rights.”

On Friday, SLA collected about 120 signatures for its petition pledging solidarity to union workers “as they fight for a fair contract with a living wage, good health benefits, and an end to understaffing,” Tomson wrote in a follow-up email to The Herald. Total signatures have reached about 400, she wrote.

“Our hope is that this will exert some pressure and show that people care,” said Sana Siddiq ’16, a member of SLA.

“Our goals in this process are consistent with remaining an employer of choice, offering competitive, and equitable salaries and benefits for all employees, and maintaining a positive and desirable work environment,” Quinn wrote.

Negotiators reached out to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service last week to aid in the formation of a mutually desirable agreement, Quinn wrote. The group will meet again next week to continue negotiations, McAninch said.


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