April 16, members of the New York Public Library Guild (AFSCME
Local 1930) approved a new contract which included a substantial
wage increase. Local 1930 President Ray Markey spoke with Clarion
about how it was achieved. Markey has been an important voice in
New York labor for over 20 years.
in the agreement?
librarian will get an 8% raise, over two years. This 8% for us is
totally separate from the DC 37 deal [an 8% raise which librarians
will also receive]. The timing was just simultaneous. Also, for
beginning librarians, the process for promotion to senior
librarian took about two years. Now they’ll be promoted
automatically after 9 months.
order to get this, you made some concessions?
We gave up a 10% night shift differential, as well as two “bonus
days.” A daily 20-minute break will no longer be part of the
contract, but I don’t anticipate it’ll be too great of a
hardship. It’s very different than an extension of the working
day, which the city had demanded.
most controversial point was that the library will now be able to
transfer senior librarians to other sites, which up to now they
could only do with beginning titles. The problem is that there are
many, many branches in the Bronx, Harlem, and so on, that can’t
get people to fill vacancies—and so they’re often closed due
to lack of staff. We never thought that this rule would leave
large areas of the city without service. So the union agreed to
this change, because we view our primary role as not only serving
our members but serving the entire community.
members didn’t agree?
think there’s general acceptance in the union that the current
situation just wasn’t working. Individually people aren’t too
thrilled about it, but they recognize that it meets a need.
was the vote?
contract passed 167 to 30, so about 40% of affected members voted
and 85% voted yes.
current salaries are far below those in the suburbs. What effect
has this had?
city can’t hire librarians! It’s a problem that’s reached
crisis proportions. Look at today’s Staten Island Advance [April
24]: “Staff shortage cripples libraries,” top of the front
page. They say it’s “epidemic proportions,” and they’re
right. They haven’t been able to hire a librarian on Staten
Island in 14 months. The vacancy rate is about 40%. In the Bronx
and Manhattan it’s at least 25%. [Workers at the Brooklyn and
Queens Public Libraries are in separate locals.]
did you do?
we launched our campaign, we knew we had to go outside ourselves.
So we put together coalitions. We did everything we could think of
and took suggestions from anybody who had one.
We had a
series of demonstrations at the main library. Along with locals at
Brooklyn and Queens, we stood outside virtually every branch in
the city to passed out information about the crisis.
I talked a
lot with [PSC University-Wide Officer] Stanley Aronowitz, and we
spent a lot of time together. Stanley and Ellen Willis put
together this ad that ran in the New York Times, signed by 160
public figures. That was important.
a political situation that forced the New York Public Library [NYPL]
management to give testimony to the City Council about librarian
shortages and low salaries. Then we took their testimony to the
wasn’t easy to get them to that point. All the publicity on this
was done through the union, because the library management was
essentially terrified of Mayor Giuliani. They would tell the
press, “No comment, but you can call Ray Markey.” So I became
like the library’s PR person.
eventually got support from the Council, and even NYPL, right?
to NYPL, a 15% increase would cost $9.6 million citywide. So we
took that figure to the city council and they passed it. But on
the day of the final budget, the mayor told [City Council Speaker
Peter] Vallone that the three systems could have the $10 million
but they couldn’t use it for salaries.
immediately had a demonstration outside the main library. Instead
of protesting against Giuliani, we went after NYPL, which has a
lot of private funds. Our slogan was, “Whose 10 million? Our 10
million!” We got you the $10 million, and now you’re not using
it for salaries. You stole it! So they met with us after this
whole city budget fiasco. And they said, “We’re going to give
you the 15%. We’re a private foundation, and we can do this.”
there in stunned disbelief. At that point it was like, after,
three years of trying everything we could think of, to be told,
you didn’t get it.
Giuliani wouldn’t let it happen. NYPL called and said, “We
have good news and bad news. You can still get the 15% but you
have to do all this other stuff to get it.” The city wanted all
kinds of concessions, starting with a longer working day. And our
members voted unanimously against it.
that [NYPL President Paul] LeClerc had a system-wide meeting, with
all the librarians. When he said something about the average
salary being $40,000 someone yelled, “Who’s making $40,000?
You’re making $400,000!” Well, after that the meeting just
disintegrated. He couldn’t say a word.
what happened next?
had convinced every major source of power in this city that
something had to be done to save the libraries. The NYPL Board of
Trustees is like a “Who’s Who” of who owns half the world.
The only thing standing in the way was Rudy Giuliani. So the NYPL
changed the law firm for their negotiations: they hired Randy
Levine, on the assumption that he was someone who could talk to
the Mayor. [Editor’s note: Levine has been hired by CUNY for the
negotiations with the PSC.]
campaign continued, and one thing that was very important was that
when Lee Saunders came in, he made it a top priority to help us.
That was very important.
the end, the city was going to be reluctant to settle with you
until they had some sort of broader deal with city workers.
The fact is, our problem would have been solved a long time ago if
the city hadn’t seen it as directly linked to other municipal
having done everything—the City Council passing the $10 million,
getting New York Times editorials, up to actually getting an offer
and having it taken away—to finally have gotten it, really
gotten it, was just incredible.
this bring you close to librarians in the suburbs?
NYPL offered us the 15% raise, they said this would put us in the
midrange—throughout the US as a whole. So this 8% is essentially
a stopgap measure to hold existing librarians. It won’t help
them much in recruitment.
perspective it’s not nearly over. All four Democratic mayoral
candidates have come out in favor of higher pay for librarians. In
a sense for us it’ll be easier to make more progress because
we’re a relatively small body. It takes less to solve our
problem, moneywise, than for the UFT or you folks.
members asked why are we getting only 8%, not the 15% that NYPL
offered before. What it comes down to is, we got what the local
was strong enough to get.
Q: What was the key to your campaign?
There’s no one thing, you can’t say we
did one thing. It was everything. Certainly demonstrating at the
library and all their fundraisers had an effect—they wanted us
to go away. But you have to go everywhere, you can’t do just one
thing, and it can’t just be you alone.