Organizing Librarians – Does it work?

Disclosure: I’m an active member of UC-AFT Local 1474 aka the librarians and lecturers union at UC Berkeley. Yes, we’re organized. I participate because I care about the profession on campus and would like to see more people have the opportunity to make careers as librarians at UC Berkeley.

This past week, the UC Union Coalition, which includes UPTE, CUE, and AFSME as well as AFT, held a no confidence vote for UC President Mark Yudoff. Yesterday, they delivered the 96% vote of no confidence to Yudoff and:

The top brass at the University of California say it’s “nothing more than a publicity stunt” and a “tantrum” – and they might be right.

Thank you, San Francisco Chronicle for deriding legitimate frustration.

I did vote, but it was with some reservation. A lot of that reservation had to do with how the ballot was worded. It was either I had no confidence in Yudoff and the regents and I want them all removed, or I had confidence and I want them to remain. I would have preferred the option of I have no confidence in Yudoff or the Regents and I would really like them to start listening to students and workers. I suspect that option was left off because it would be too nuanced and not catch headlines, which makes me sad because it’s sounds rather jaded.

When I was a Library Assistant, I was represented by CUE, the clerical union, and I had little confidence in their ability to represent me so I ignored them. My impression, and it’s not uncommon on campus, was that they were typically older administrative workers more concerned with their status quo, fighting every little change, and not entirely focused on the big picture. I don’t know how accurate that it, but I suspect it’s going to change at people threatened with lay-offs and furloughs. It finally affects them enough to care.

I’ve seen it with the Librarians as well. I first became active in the union because I was interested in our contract negotiations and wanted to see more retention of younger librarians on staff. (UC wages are lower than the CSU system, which is quite distasteful, and I know many people who have taken other jobs because of the money.) I must say, one thing that makes me enjoy working with the Librarians union is that they seem more concerned with the big issues, not fighting every little thing. Of course though, there are inherent problems with arguing for the interests of so many, when many different things matter to us. We can all agree on issues like furloughs or lay-offs, but finer grained issues are divisive.

How does this relate back to the big campus unions? Well, there’s more splintering. I actually helped with the vote a week ago, working a table in an area with heavy student traffic with members of CUE and UPTE. I really enjoy getting out there and talking to students about their campus and their experiences. How do all the cuts affect students? One glaring one is that most campus libraries will be closed Saturdays. When I was an undergrad at UC Berkeley, I did most of my studying in the library on Saturdays because I had to work during the week. Now, that’s not as much of an option. Oh, and most budgets for student workers have been slashed as well, so when more students need campus jobs, there are fewer around. That’s how the cuts are affecting students. That’s what Yudoff and UCOP seem to either ignore or disregard when they give themselves raises and pats on the back as they slash campus budgets. Returning students feel the changes, incoming students are missing out on opportunities. The other union representatives wanted to talk about the plight of “the workers” in the abstract. Of course “the worker” meant them, but they don’t often relate “the worker” back to how it impacts students. I think that’s unfortunate, but also seems to ignore a fundamental relationship on campus – most of us have jobs in some way to help students and research. If students and research suffer, we should talk about it. It doesn’t have to be about us, the worker, it should be about how we are integral to the supposed mission of UC. (I say supposed, because I’m not sure the administration cares about education and research. They just eliminated the Vice Provost for Education and Learning.)

So what’s the next step? I don’t know. I still don’t trust UCOP or the Regents. I want to be able to do the best job I can to help my students and researchers. I would love to see the discussion focus more on what students and research funders are paying for, and why the cuts are happening where they are. I would also love to see people take ownership of their unions instead of letting them be dominated by a vocal minority. If you disagree with your union, participate! That’s my plan.

One thought on “Organizing Librarians – Does it work?

  1. I’m really fortunate. The first thing our Governor did when he took office was push through a no tuition increase / no budget cut agreement with the State Legislature. Next year will be tough, but tuition is still cheap here compared to the coasts and we aren’t having to make any life or death choices. The next budget cycle may be different, but I’m cautiously optimistic.

    One thing I have picked up though. Justification of value is more important than ever.

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