Friday, February 3, 2006
BY MICHAEL PUFFER
Copyright © 2006 Republican-American
CHESHIRE -- Eighteen Cheshire Public Library employees have joined the ranks of unionized town labor.
Library employees voted on Jan. 24 to form the town's fifth union, as members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The union will include all staff who log 20 or more hours a week, except for the director, deputy director, assistant director and an administrative assistant.
The move means library workers will now have their salaries, benefits and working conditions outlined by negotiated contracts rather than town policies.
"We are going into contract negotiations at some point, but I really don't think it will affect services to the public," said Library Director Ramona Harten.
Currently, raises are awarded on a merit basis that includes regular performance evaluations. A contract could replace this system with one based on years of service, such as the step systems incorporated in the contracts of other town unions.
Salaries of the affected employees currently range from $30,000 for clerks to $55,000 for department heads.
But the decision to unionize had little to do with salaries or benefits, said Bill Basel, the head of the library's reference department and a prime organizer of the fledgling union.
"We are looking for the ability to advocate for ourselves," Basel said. "There are some major changes coming down the line."
Library workers are concerned about changes in technology and job descriptions that might mean eliminating positions, Basel said. They are concerned that recent moves to extend library hours in the evenings and summer vacations could affect their personal lives, he said.
"Basically, we are looking for some kind of leverage to discuss these things back and forth," Basel said.
Town Manager Michael Milone said he expects the move to simply make dealings with library staff "a little more formal, a little more rigid."
The Town of Cheshire currently employs about 210 people. In addition to the new library union, there are about 123 unionized town employees in police, police dispatchers, Town Hall support staff and Department of Public Works employee unions.