Brown University library workers campaign to fill empty union positions 2014

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionPDF versionPDF version
Timing
Time Period:  
24 October
2014
to
11 December
2014
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Providence, Rhode Island
Location Description: 
Brown University
Goals: 
1. Keep health insurance contributions at 12%

2. Spread out health insurance cost for library workers that work nine months of the year

3. More flexible hours

4. Fill two of the five open positions with permanent union employees

5. Keep current disciplinary measures the same

6. Leave storm day policies unchanged

 

In 2014, Brown University, a private research university located in Providence, Rhode Island, enrolled nearly 9,000 students and employed over 1,500 workers, more than a hundred of whom worked in the school’s libraries. The United Service and Allied Workers of Rhode Island (USAW-RI) is the workers union that represented nearly half of these library workers in addition to the school’s dining employees, parking officers, service responders, and mailroom drivers. The 2010-2014 collective bargaining agreement between the university and the unionized library workers was set to expire on 30 September 2014. For the new 2014-2018 contract, the university proposed unsatisfactory changes that prompted library workers and union representatives to call for re-negotiation.

Campaigns for contract re-negotiation between the school and the unionized library workers were not unprecedented. They agreed on the 2010 contract only after the unionized library workers and the Brown Student Labor Alliance, a student organization that advocated for workers’ rights, ran a one-month long campaign in September 2010 to resist and re-negotiate the administration’s proposed changes to their health care plan. Re-negotiations led to, among other stipulations, an increase of worker premium share to 7% and then to 9% in 2013 and finally to 12% on 30 September 2014.

Photo of John Hay LibraryJohn Hay Library

By Apavlo at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Source: https://web.archive.org/web/20170502025737/https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BrownUniversity-JohnHayLibrary.jpg

The university’s proposal for the 2014 contract again included an increase in health insurance contributions by workers. This time, the administration suggested an increase of 2% over the next 4 years to 14% coupled with a 2% wage increase for 2014 reduced to a 1.75% for the next three years until the contract expiration in 2018. Although the premium share increase was indeed a point of re-negotiation in this campaign, especially because members on the lower end of the salary ladder could have qualified for a rate lower than the agreed union rate of 12%, it was not the campaign’s main or only concern. The union’s primary concerns focused around the disproportionate attrition rate of unionized library workers compared to non-unionized workers. Since 2007, the university had reduced library staff by roughly one-third, cutting 30 union positions and only 6 non-union positions. The university kept union jobs unfilled or reduced to shorter schedules resulting in understaffing in certain departments. The understaffing meant library employees had to work extensive overtime of 23 hours per week, and part-time workers were required to cover additional hours. At the same time, the school created new library staff.

positions to encourage the development of digital resources. However, the university did not consider union workers for these roles and instead relied on subcontracted non-union members to fill the technical positions. The school said this matter is the result of a movement towards digitalization, but the workers argued for an integration of two work forces, perhaps by allowing union workers to shadow professionals hired to do technical work.

The contract language also suggested a change in storm policy. Typically, the city-declared parking bans determined whether staff could stay home or were paid overtime for working on storm days, but the new proposal gave the university the power to decide. In addition to revising the storm policy, the school suggested an extension of the amount of time disciplinary measures, in the form of verbal or written suspensions, appeared on an employee’s record.

The administration and the union failed to arrive at a compromise by the contract expiration date on 30 September 2014, requiring an extension of the bargaining agreement to allow for further negotiation. As meetings continued between the two parties, the Brown Student Labor Alliance began official demonstrations on 24 October 2014. Students gathered with flyers and collected 400 signatures for SLA’s petition. The petition pledged solidarity with unionized library workers in their attempt to end understaffing and to improve professional development opportunities.

Three weeks and a dozen negotiation meetings later, the two parties still had not settled on an agreement. On the evening of 14 November 2014, Student Labor Alliance held a second rally at the university’s humanities and social sciences library, the Rockefeller Library, also nicknamed “the Rock.” This protest coincided with the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the library. As a dedication ceremony for a new reading room took place inside, over a hundred students, staff members, and community members chanted and sang on the library steps to show support for the union workers. Because the demonstration took place over Thanksgiving break, turnout was lower than usual. Those that attended the rally used the holiday season as an opportunity to get creative with posters and banners. A few of the Thanksgiving-themed signs read “Don’t Squash Benefits” and “Don’t Gobble Union Jobs.” Student activists and library workers gave speeches and even City Councilman Seth Yurdin spoke to the crowd, “I’m here today to support the library workers and to support the students and all the people that are out here and are pushing to improve working conditions.” University President Christina Paxson also thanked the crowd for their support of library workers, but did not necessarily give her support to the union workers’ goals. The crowd booed and sang taunts as she walked away. By the end of the day, the administration agreed to spread out health care costs for the employees who only worked nine months of the year and allowed employees more flexible hours. The university also offered to fill two of the five available positions with union workers, one permanently and the other temporarily for four years. The union rejected this offer, stalling negotiations once more.

On the afternoon of 8 December 2014, 30 students locked arms and entered the administration offices of the Rockefeller Library with a message to deliver to head librarian Harriette Hemmasi. Hemmasi was unavailable and other upper library administrators refused to accept the students’ message and remained in their offices. As a result, students read the message aloud in unison and followed the message with a solidarity clap, a rhythmic clap that begins slow and gradually quickens before breaking out into a full applause. After the solidarity clap, Associate Librarian David Banush told students they were being disruptive and asked students to study elsewhere. In response, students sat down for a study-in. However, within a few minutes, public safety officers arrived to the scene and told students to leave the offices as they were creating a fire hazard. The students complied, but before leaving they ended with a solidarity clap.

Three days after the study-in on 11 December 2014, the unionized library workers accepted the university’s proposed contract set to expire September 2017. The workers ended up accepting the school’s previous offer of filling the five vacant positions with two full-time union employees. Despite conceding on the number of union positions filled, the union made advances on almost all of their other goals. The university dropped its proposed changes to storm day policies and disciplinary proceedings and omitted their proposed increase to health insurance contribution rates. The compromise also included the formation of a labor management committee comprised of 3 university administrators and 3 unionized workers. The 2010 contract created a similar committee, but the infrequency of meetings hindered its ineffectiveness. The new committee would meet once month to discuss training and job opportunities. To further improve professional development opportunities for the unionized workers, the new contract included the establishment of training programs and workshops to make positions in digital and technical fields more available.

For the most part, the Brown University library workers successfully re-negotiated their bargaining agreement with the administration. They managed to resist changes to health insurance contributions, disciplinary proceedings, and storm day policies. Even though they did not fill their ideal number of union positions, Karen McAninch, a spokesman for the library workers’ union stated filling union positions is “a moving target” due to the fact that vacancies frequently become available. Very importantly, the union not only established a more effective labor-management committee to facilitate discussions about union workers’ opportunities for professional development, but created training programs to help fill union positions in the future.

Research Notes
Influences: 

The previous 2010-2014 contract was agreed on only after Brown University union library workers campaigned against the university's proposed changes to their health care plan that would increase workers' premium share rates. This campaign greatly influenced the 2014 campaign.

Sources: 
West, Erin and Celeste Matsui. 2016. “OVERDUE NOTICE Labor Grievances in Brown University’s Changing Libraries.” The Indy, March 4. Retrieved February 16, 2017 (http://www.theindy.org/806).

Cioci, Matt D. Fonseca , John. n.d. “About USAW RI.” About USAW RI. Retrieved February 16, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170302000203/http://usawri.org/about.htm ).

Gantz, Lindsay. 2014. “Union Pushes for Increased Benefits for Library Workers.” The Brown Daily Herald, October 27. Retrieved March 16, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170319022530/http://www.browndailyherald.com/2014/10/27/union-pushes-increased-benefits-library-workers/).

Gantz, Lindsay. 2014. “Library Workers’ Union Reaches New Contract Agreement.” The Brown Daily Herald, December 23. Retrieved March 16, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170319022626/http://www.browndailyherald.com/2014/12/23/library-workers-union-reaches-new-contract-agreement/).

Baumer, Mark. 2014. “Students Occupy Admin Offices to Support Brown Library Workers.” RI Future, December 9. Retrieved March 16, 2017 (http://www.rifuture.org/students-occupy-admin-offices-to-support-brown-librarians/).

Ahlquist, Steve. 2014. “Students Join Librarians to Demand Fair Contract at Brown.” RI Future, November 25. Retrieved March 16, 2017 (http://www.rifuture.org/students-join-librarians-to-demand-fair-contract-at-brown/).

Baumer, Mark. 2014. “Baumer: Response to Huidekoper from a Library Union Member.” The Brown Daily Herald, December 5. Retrieved March 16, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170319023243/http://www.browndailyherald.com/2014/12/05/baumer-response-huidekoper-library-union-member/).

Huidekoper, Elizabeth. 2014. “Huidekoper: Perspectives on Library Union Negotiations.” The Brown Daily Herald, December 2. Retrieved March 17, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170319023309/http://www.browndailyherald.com/2014/12/02/huidekoper-perspectives-library-union-negotiations/).

Gantz, Lindsay. 2014. “Rally Aims to Fuel Library Workers’ Negotiations.” The Brown Daily Herald, November 17. Retrieved March 17, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170319023354/http://www.browndailyherald.com/2014/11/17/rally-aims-fuel-library-workers-negotiations/).

Peterson, Deborah. 2014. “Peterson: Further Clarification of Library Negotiation Issues.” The Brown Daily Herald, December 5. Retrieved March 16, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170319023432/http://www.browndailyherald.com/2014/12/05/peterson-clarification-library-negotiation-issues/).

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Juli Pham 18/03/2017