Minneapolis library unions not opposed to merger

Labor leaders say questions remain about the potential impact on the city's librarians

As a proposal to consolidate the Minneapolis and Hennepin County library systems rapidly moves through a governmental approval process, the two largest unions representing employees of the city's libraries said they are not opposed to a merger provided that a certain measure of job security is guaranteed for their members.

The approximately 75 members of the Professional Librarians Union of Minneapolis (PLUM) met during the last week of February and agreed that because a merger should result in increased service at the city's libraries, they are not opposed to it. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 5, which includes several local units representing employees within both the Minneapolis Public Library (MPL) and Hennepin County Library (HCL) systems, endorsed a consolidation. The endorsement is contingent upon approval by three local units, including Local 99, which represents 150 MPL clerical and support staff employees, and two local units representing 400 HCL employees.

&#8220Workers will embrace change, but they need security,” AFSCME Council 5 Director Eliot Seide said. &#8220We want to make sure that residents of Hennepin County and Minneapolis get the best possible library service, but we also want to make sure that our members have their job security protected and their wages, hours and working conditions protected.”

PLUM President Helen Burke said the decision by MPL librarians not to oppose a merger was driven by the hope that a consolidation will lead to better library service for city residents. That doesn't mean PLUM members don't have concerns about the future of their jobs and the numerous changes a consolidation could bring, Burke said. Under the proposed plan for a merger, MPL employees would become employees of Hennepin County. PLUM members have raised questions about how differences in employment standards - Minneapolis librarians, for example, earn better wages and work 37.5 hours per week while county employees work 40 hours - would be handled in a merger, she said.

&#8220We have a right to be anxious about [a consolidation],” Burke said.

To address those concerns, PLUM said they are not opposed to the merger provided the legislation enabling a merger explicitly state that &#8220MPL employees will retain their collective bargaining rights and their terms and conditions of employment pending negotiations.”

The consolidation of the two systems is on a fast track for approval driven by committee deadlines at the Legislature. The Legislature needs to pass enabling legislation amending the city charter and allowing for countywide taxing authority to support the newly merged library system. The Minneapolis Public Library Board voted March 7 to move forward with a consolidation, the Minneapolis City Council followed suit March 9 and the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners did the same March 20. The bill was introduced in the House Local Government and Metropolitan Affairs Committee March 14 and was sent on to the Finance Committee, allowing it to make the House committee deadline of March 23. The Senate committee deadline is April 14.

Other MPL employees have yet to weigh in on the merger. Robert Armstrong, president of the Library Supervisors Union of Minneapolis (LSUM), said members of that union had not taken an official stance on the merger as of the first week in March. LSUM, which represents about 20 MPL employees, will meet sometime within the next month to discuss the stance it will take, he said.

&#8220We're just kind of watching and keeping our ears to the ground and trying to find out what everybody else is saying and talking about,” Armstrong said.

A lot of basic questions about the future of MPL employees have yet to be answered, he said.

&#8220There's been a blanket statement that no one loses their job. That's a pretty good blanket statement. But what does that actually mean? Does everybody reapply for their job? Do we all keep our job for six months and then we're all laid off? These are some of the basic questions that need to be addressed,” Armstrong said, adding that the five unions representing 96 percent of MPL employees need to work together as a coalition rather than individually on getting answers.

PLUM does have legal representation that has been in touch with library officials about the union's concerns, Burke said. The union has also kept in contact with Minneapolis Public Library Director Kit Hadley and requested a meeting with City Council members, which was held in the first week of March. AFSCME officials have been working with legislators, Hennepin County commissioners and city officials to ensure the language of the merger is fair for employees, Seide said.

Minneapolis Public Library Communications Manager Megan Peterson said as a way to keep communication open with employees and provide information, the library has created a page about the consolidation on its internal intranet. Hadley has also held four or five meetings with employees to discuss the merger and has also sent out periodic e-mails, Peterson said.

Burke said the merger is once again showcasing the resilience and dedication of MPL employees, who in recent years have seen almost 30 percent of its staff laid off in response to deep state cuts in local government aid and the construction of the new, $100 million-plus Central Library.

&#8220Change is kind of the norm now,” PLUM Vice President Ian Stade said.

Reach Kari VanDerVeen at kvanderveen@mnpubs.com or 436-4373.