Guest Editorial: UC punishes librarians for collective bargaining

The University of California has decided not to pay merit increases owed to its union librarians because librarians are currently in salary negotiations. Although all UC librarians benefit from periodic cost of living adjustments negotiated by the librarians’ union, the paychecks of union librarians are the only paychecks affected by this unusual punitive and divisive move. By not paying previously earned merit increases, the university is attempting to penalize union librarians for exercising their right to collective bargaining.

The University of California has decided not to pay merit increases owed to its union librarians because librarians are currently in salary negotiations. Although all UC librarians benefit from periodic cost of living adjustments negotiated by the librarians’ union, the paychecks of union librarians are the only paychecks affected by this unusual punitive and divisive move. By not paying previously earned merit increases, the university is attempting to penalize union librarians for exercising their right to collective bargaining.

Despite recent statements made by the UC Office of the President inferring that union employees receive regular cost of living adjustments, there has been no general range adjustment to the librarians’ salary scale for over four years.

During this time, inflation, rising health care costs and increased contributions made by librarians to the UC retirement fund have led to a reduction of UC librarian salaries – salaries currently 20 percent below the wages being paid to California State University librarians and below many community college librarians, as well. All sides acknowledge this pay gap makes it difficult for the university to hire and retain quality librarians. Unchecked, it threatens the quality of services and collections our faculty and students deserve.

When the UC and the UC Librarians negotiated the current contract in 2009, both sides agreed to postpone negotiation of the growing salary gap until this summer. Now, however, UC is punishing union librarians for evoking the very salary negotiation re-opener it agreed to in the last contract, even as it honors the service of non-union librarians.

All UC librarians regularly undergo a rigorous peer-review evaluation, which includes an analysis of their primary job performance, as well as the contributions they make to the library profession and wider academic research community. UC librarians are held to the highest standards in the academic library world and yet the effort they make to deliver premier services to the university, in an environment of reduced staff and burgeoning responsibilities, is not being rewarded.

There can be no reason for the university to deny earned merit increases to the union librarians, other than to send a message: in their vision of a privatized UC, collective bargaining over salary will be punished and those who dare to organize on behalf of their collective rights will be intimidated.

It is a message directed at us, your librarians, but it is meant for the entire UC community, faculty, support staff and students. If left uncontested, it will erode the spirit of collaboration, fairness and mutual respect that have helped propel the UC to the top ranks of higher education.

UC librarians cannot be bowed by this retributive move. Nor can we afford to be yoked by the dark vision this message seeks to portend. Librarians know solidarity and cooperation are crucial to our craft and our mutual success.

DAVID MICHALSKI is a librarian at UC Davis. He can be reached at michalski@ucdavis.edu.