Library Union Battles Board Over Contract Dispute

The Main Library (Photo by Alex Nuñez)

The Great Neck Library Staff Association (GNLSA) is appealing to residents to pressure the library’s board of trustees into restoring annual salary raises for some of its longest-tenured employees. This comes after the library board challenged an arbitrator’s recent ruling in the matter.

The GNLSA has been operating without a contract since their previous agreement with the Great Neck Library expired in 2012. In 2017, the parties signed a memorandum of understanding (MOA) with a stipulation that each library employee will receive a 2 percent raise each year from 2017-21, a stipulation that remained in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiated later that year. After two pay periods, the board notified six library staff members that their salaries had hit the cap from the expired CBA, so they would be frozen at that level. The union filed a grievance afterwards that asked for compensation for the affected employees, most of whom have been working at the library for more than 20 years.

“There’s a lot of anger at the trustees,” children’s librarian Lisa Stowe, one of the six employees no longer getting raises, said. “This raise was supposed to cover the 5 percent increase in healthcare payments, therefore, while I am making the same salary I’m taking home a smaller paycheck each year. This year, I’m taking home less than I took home last year, next year I’ll be taking home less.”

Great Neck Library Programming Editorial Assistant Debbie Feldman, whose salary was also affected, said the freeze has impacted staff morale overall.

“The board is micromanaging the library,” Feldman said. “They’re destroying the morale of a stellar staff, and when the staff morale goes it affects the community as well.”

The union argued in arbitration that the pay raises negotiated in the MOA were not subject to the salary caps the library cited, since the 2017 CBA, which both sides have honored until this point, contained a clause saying the MOA would be the controlling agreement in any situation where the MOA and CBA conflicted with each other and the MOA made no exceptions for the pay raises. The library, on the other hand, contends it simply corrected the pay raises that had exceeded the salary cap, a cap that the MOA had no impact over since it did not mention it.

Ultimately, New York State Public Employment Relations Board Arbitrator Howard C. Edelman agreed with the union and issued a recommendation that the board restore the salaries of the affected employees.

“It is clear that the new MOA was implemented to provide all employees with 2 percent raises so long as they were on the staff as of Jan. 1 [2018],” Edelman wrote in the ruling. “Absent significant circumstances to the contrary, it is reasonable and logical to assume that the caps did not apply in the contract.”

While the arbitrator ruled in favor of the GNLSA, the CBA between the union and the library allows the board to challenge the ruling of an arbitrator in any grievance. The board ultimately has final decision-making authority over grievances, and can rule to sustain or overturn the arbitrator’s recommendation by majority vote.

The GNLSA is not permitted to strike, and ultimately has no further recourse should the board vote to overturn the arbitration ruling. However, Buckley hopes the community comes to the staff’s defense.

“We just want the public to know that the board they elected is being willfully obstinate,” GNLSA President Barbara Buckley said. “This affects everything. It’s affecting their pensions, their social security contracts. The board members are volunteers, they just don’t get it.”

The library’s board members deferred to board president Weihua Yan when asked to comment on the matter. Yan was unable to respond to requests for comment, and Peter Fishbein, one of the attorney’s representing the board in the matter, declined to comment on matters of legal strategy.

The Great Neck Library Board of Trustees will next meet at the library’s main branch on Tuesday, Feb. 25 at 7:30 p.m.

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