Monday, March 01, 2010

Equal Rights for Library Workers

If you are a teacher in Maryland, you have a right to collective bargaining. If you are a police officer in Maryland, you have a right to collective bargaining. If you are a career fire fighter in Maryland, you have a right to collective bargaining. As a matter of fact, if you are a rank-and-file public employee of virtually any occupation in Maryland, you have a right to collective bargaining.

But if you are a library worker, you are out of luck.

State and county laws permitting collective bargaining cover almost all public employees in Maryland, but library workers are an exception. The reason is that most libraries belong to systems that are governed by quasi-independent boards of trustees. The systems receive funding from the counties and aid from the state, but are not bound by collective bargaining laws. The only exceptions are Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, both of which have accepted collective bargaining for library workers since 1986. Everywhere else in the state, library workers have no right to unionize.

Librarians have two distinguishing characteristics. First, they are overwhelmingly female. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that 83.5% of librarians in 2008 were women. Second, the vast majority have college degrees. Most non-school employers require librarians to have masters degrees in library science (MLS). These are well-educated employees who – perhaps uniquely – are denied an independent voice over their wages and working conditions.

That lack of voice has had consequences. According to BLS, these are the average annual salaries of librarians and library technicians in Maryland as of May 2008.

Bear in mind that this data probably includes librarians employed by school systems, where they have union representation, and that the statewide average is affected by Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, which have library worker unions. In many parts of the state, librarians make less than $60,000 – a low rate for a person living in Maryland with a college degree. How does that help recruit and retain qualified people for those positions?

Delegate Tom Hucker (D-20) and Senator Nancy King (D-39) have sponsored a bill that would give library workers the option of choosing – or not choosing – union representation. This bill would finally put them on par with just about all other public employees around the state. The bill would allow library system Boards of Trustees to reject all or part of any collectively bargained provisions with a fiscal impact. The bill prohibits strikes and allows a neutral third party to recommend termination for striking employees and to ban a striking union from the bargaining unit for up to one year. The bill is supported by a number of elected officials around the state including Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, who currently negotiates agreements covering library workers. Leggett wrote, “… I want to reiterate that in the 23 years Montgomery County Government has had collective bargaining it has served the interests of labor, management and the residents of the county.”

Finally, we ask this: if teachers, police, fire fighters and employees in many other occupations have a right to input on the job, why not library workers?