Librarians Negotiate Higher Pay

On Feb. 25, the University of California’s librarians’ union signed a new labor contract guaranteeing higher salaries, benefits and improved job security for more than 400 UC librarians.

Despite a state fiscal crisis, and budget cuts plaguing the campuses, the University of California Office of the President and the University Council-American Federation of Teachers reached a tentative agreement on Dec. 19, 2009 which ensures salary increases, severance packages and a larger budget for professional development activities. The agreement was then approved by the UC-AFT Librarian Unit.

Librarians will now receive a five-percent salary increase each time they are promoted. Promotions are subject to a peer review process every two to three years.

The UCOP agreed to increase the systemwide training budget by 3 percent — or a total of $8,217. At UCSD, the amount allocated to development — which allows librarians to attend conferences and receive training to advance their professional knowledge — will increase from $24,557 to $25,298.

The contract also gives librarians a new severance option. If faced with layoffs, librarians can choose to give up “recall rights” — the ability to return to a job in their field of work, if one opens up — in favor of a time-limited severance package.

This system was created because, in bigger libraries, librarians faced with lay-offs can request that librarians with less seniority be fired first. But in smaller libraries that employ only four to five librarians, this is not an option.

The severance pay option only applies to six of the 10 UC campuses — excluding UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz, UC Merced and UCSD.

It was also agreed that, should the University of California enact future systemwide salary increases, librarians will get the same percentage increases as other specialized personnel.

According to UCOP Senior Negotiator Peter Chester, the new contract acknowledges the work of UC librarians while recognizing the current financial circumstances.

“Given the current economic situation, I believe we’ve reached a very good agreement,” Chester said.

However, according to Chief Negotiator for the UC-AFT Librarian Unit Mike Rotkin, the agreement does not meet the librarians’ needs. He said that after two years of negotiations, the union was forced to settle.

“After negotiating for university lecturers for 25 years and now for librarians, I’ve realized that the UC administration cannot be approached with rationale at the bargaining table,” Rotkin said. “[It is] not a rational institution.”

Rotkin said the new contract does not address the disparity between UC librarians’ salaries and those at the California State University system, who are paid an average of 20 percent more.

According to the UCOP’s Web site, assistant librarians are paid anywhere from $57,600 to $105,800 annually. Rotkin claims the average starting salary for assistant librarians is $46,164, compared to $55,944 at CSUs. After six years, the gap increases — UC assistant librarians make $49,409, compared to $64,320 at CSUs. The discrepancy between salaries a primary reasons negotiations began two years ago.

Chester said the salary gap can be attributed to different labor contracts and job circumstances. He said CSU librarians do maintenance work, such as circulation, shelving and recordkeeping, while UC librarians often work with professors on their research.

“CSU librarians have a very different line of work from UC librarians,” Chester said. “Their jobs are not a valid comparison. CSU librarians have more leverage, as they are in the same bargaining unit as CSU faculty and staff.”

The UC-AFT and the UCOP initially met to draw up a new labor contract in 2007, before state funding for public higher education was cut by over $2.2 billion. In the wake of $115 million in cuts to the UC system last spring and a $60 million cut last fall, the UC-AFT Librarian Bargaining Committee decided the best solution was to postpone further negotiations until May 11, 2011, where they will once again open discussion about the salary gap.

The cuts have made it difficult to provide salary increases and job security for the librarians’ union, Chester said.

Rotkin, however, said that the UC system can refuse a more comprehensive contract only because the current contract prevents UC-AFT from striking.

“It is just the general perception that the UCs don’t have money,” Rotkin said. “We believe that the UCs have money. Unless we’re threatening them with damaging consequences such as strikes, we have no real bargaining power.”

Rotkin said if the UCOP does not close the salary gap, the librarians are likely to strike.

“Our current contracts [do] not allow for the withholding of labor,” Rotkin said. “[But] should the parties come to [an] impasse in the reopener bargaining over salary for 2011-12, the librarians are free to strike.”

Readers can contact Anqi Chen at [email protected].

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