Dana de la Cruz
Contract negotiations between UC librarians and the UC Office of the President (UCOP) opened last Tuesday at UC Berkeley as librarians across the UC system push for higher pay and recognition as academics.
The University Council-American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT), the union representing UC librarians, prepared a team of seven librarians to bargain with UCOP. The meeting, which took place at UC Berkeley’s Doe Library, marked the start of a negotiations process expected to last at least six months.
“Our side passed three articles over to the UC side,” said Kristen LaBonte, a UCSB librarian and member of the UC-AFT’s bargaining team. “It seems like it was a very nice start, but I also feel like we have so much work ahead of us.”
The meeting began with introductions and opening statements from the UC-AFT and UCOP. The UC-AFT then introduced several proposals regarding librarians’ academic status, the union’s role in the creation of new job titles, and paid release time for union members attending negotiations. UCOP made no proposals.
One of the UC-AFT’s primary demands is increased salary. The union claims that salaries for UC librarians are inadequate to cover high housing costs near UC campuses and are not competitive with pay at other institutions.
“Our salaries aren’t in parity with the Cal States or the community colleges,” said Yolanda Blue, a UCSB librarian in the Special Research Collections Department. Blue added that she has worked several part-time jobs to supplement her librarian salary.
LaBonte said that she took a 22 percent pay cut when she left CSU Channel Islands to work at UCSB, where she works as a Reference and Instruction librarian. Like Blue, LaBonte works other part-time jobs to satisfy the cost of living.
Blue has worked at UCSB for 23 years, LaBonte for seven. Both expressed their concerns for newer librarians with lower salaries.
“We see a really high turnover of amazing, bright, young, talented librarians,” LaBonte said. “Since 2009, UCSB has lost twelve librarians. Nine of those were here less than five years, and some of them less than three years.”
Librarians mainly enter the UC system as assistant or associate librarians with temporary employment status, receiving pay raises, promotions, and career status over time after performance reviews. According to data published by Transparent California, the median salaries in 2016 for assistant and associate librarians within the UC system were $47,204 and $65,068, respectively. For a two-person household, the Santa Barbara County identifies these incomes as “Low” and “Lower-Moderate.”
Blue said that high turnover creates constant hiring and training expenses, as well as a “loss of institutional knowledge.” LaBonte added that she has taken on additional responsibilities due to staff vacancies.
“It reduces our ability to really provide the services and outreach that we want,” LaBonte said.
UCOP’s goal is to reach a long-term agreement that includes market-competitive pay and healthcare and retirement benefits, UCOP spokesperson Stephanie Beechem said in a statement.
“We recognize and appreciate the work that UC’s librarians do to support UC’s teaching, research and public service missions,” the statement reads.
The UC-AFT also stressed the need for academic freedom, or the right to conduct scholarly research with little interference from the university, demanding a “clearer statement” on the status of librarians as academics and professionals.
“We’re called academic librarians, but we don’t have the same rights as other academics on campus, such as the faculty,” LaBonte said. “We, as academics, deserve to have that recognition.”
The UC-AFT will further discuss academic freedom, along with other proposals, at the second bargaining meeting on Tuesday, April 24 at UC Irvine.
The last agreement between UC librarians and UCOP was ratified in 2013 after 18 months of negotiations and lasts through September 2018. The agreement increased salaries by an average of 2.7 percent. This year’s negotiation efforts include a petition by UC librarians, which has reached over 300 signatures.
“The bargaining librarians will be very different this time,” LaBonte said. “It’s clear to UCOP that we will be at the table, working with them to resolve some of the most critical issues that we have.”
“This time, we’re more determined than ever to have our voices heard,” Blue said.