Ray Markey Talks About the Librarians' Contract

 

CLARION

MAY 2001

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Ray Markey Talks About the Librarians' Contract

TRS Mess

 

On 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.

 

Q: What’s in the agreement?

A: Every 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.

 

Q: In order to get this, you made some concessions?

A: Yes. 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.

But the 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.

 

Q: Some members didn’t agree?

A: I 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.

 

Q: What was the vote?

A: The contract passed 167 to 30, so about 40% of affected members voted and 85% voted yes.

 

Q: Your current salaries are far below those in the suburbs. What effect has this had?

A: The 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.]

 

Q: What did you do?

A: When 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.

We created 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 press.

It 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.

 

Q: You eventually got support from the Council, and even NYPL, right?

A: According 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.

So we 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.”

We sat there in stunned disbelief. At that point it was like, after, three years of trying everything we could think of, to be told, “It’s yours.”…

 

Q: But you didn’t get it.

A: Right. 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.

Just after 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.

 

Q: So what happened next?

A: We 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.]

Our 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.

 

Q: In the end, the city was going to be reluctant to settle with you until they had some sort of broader deal with city workers.

A: Absolutely. 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 negotiations.

After 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.

 

Q: Does this bring you close to librarians in the suburbs?

No. When 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.

From our 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.

Some 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.