Librarians Raise Awareness of Year-Long Struggle for Higher Wages

With salary negotiations reaching an impasse, the University of California and UC Irvine librarians are currently in a state of mediation. Despite the failing economy, the librarians seek higher wages to meet those of their California State University and California Community College librarian contemporaries.

The union representing UCI librarians, University Council – American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT) Local 2226, has been in a series of negotiations with the UC regarding salary increases. As of April 17, in which a second mediated session took place in Oakland, both sides have yet to arrive at any agreements.

In 2008, the union and university began negotiating a new contract and were able to settle all non-salary issues, such as changes in merit review and promotion processes. However, talks about salary increases were held off until after the budget had been ratified.

“We’ve been negotiating with the university, but they offered no salary increase, and frankly, we librarians have not had a serious pay increase in a while,” said Mitchell Brown, UCI research librarian for chemistry, earth system sciences and Russian studies and a negotiating team member for UC-AFT.

Currently, the starting salary for a UC librarian is approximately $10,000 to $15,000 less than that of the CSU salaries, according to Brown.

“Librarian colleagues in the CSU, community college and larger public library systems … and other research libraries located in metropolitan areas throughout the United States, have significantly higher salary scales than UC librarians,” said Julia Gelfand, applied science librarian.

With the current salary for a UC librarian at $46,184, in comparison to CSU at $54,000, Brown argued that it is important to continue these salary negotiations so that the UC remains a top and competitive institution.

“Unless we can pay our staff,” Brown said, “they aren’t going to come work at the UC. It is ironic that research institutions [like the UC] constantly issue Ph.D.s [but] are paying their librarians less [than] those other colleges.”

Sharing similar concerns as Brown is another librarian, Bob Johnson, a research librarian for nursing and allied health who claimed that by maintaining quality librarians, research institutions like UCI will be able to sustain levels of both competitiveness and esteem.

“I’m not saying that we should be paid the same [as CSU], but there is a discrepancy,” Johnson said. “If you are a university, [it] need[s] to take into consideration the fact that it’s expensive to live in Southern California.”

According to a press release from the librarians of UC-AFT, in addition to low salaries, UC librarians claim to be suffering from not only low salaries, but also from several years of “chronic under-funding,” which includes limited budgets for purchasing books, no budget to support new graduate programs and staffing that has fallen way behind student enrollments.

As a result, several campus libraries, such as UC Davis, have dropped in national rankings from 35th in 1993 to 60th in 2007.

“[In order to] keep UCI as one of the top research schools, we need to have access to high quality information and the people who can provide that information, making sure that we continue to attract the same high quality of librarians,” Johnson said.

On April 17, librarians on each of the UC campuses, including UCI, devoted the day to bringing a greater awareness to the librarians’ struggle by wearing T-shirts and buttons with their campaign logo, “I Love UC Librarians.” At UCI, librarians stood outside of the Science and Langson Libraries passing out handouts detailing the work of the librarians and explaining the importance of the libraries to the university.

“The planned activities are to increase awareness across each of the UC campuses of the role of librarians and their commitment to the campus instruction and research mission,” Gelfand said.

Brian Williams, a research librarian for criminology, law and society, described the event as a “quiet celebration with the librarians wearing our colors and saying ‘We’re here.’ ”

The next planned event is set for April 30 and is in conjunction with New Majority Faculty Day, a national event aimed at supporting contingent faculty, such as teaching assistants and lecturers, all across the country. The main goal of the event, according to Brown, is to support these lecturers in addition to promoting the librarian cause.

“We are hoping that these demonstrations and April 30 will cause the university to really treat the librarians fairly in the negotiation process,” Brown explained.

Andrew Tonkovich, president of UC-AFT Local 2226 and an English lecturer, is one of the chief lecturers involved in New Majority Faculty Day and is a supporter of the librarians.

“Librarians are in some tough bargaining with the UC,” Tonkovich said. “It’s almost fate that we are all going to be [working together] at the table. Lecturers and the whole community at UCI support the librarians. They are one of the stellar parts of the community.”

On April 30, lecturers and librarians will unite in the Social Science Plaza to inform faculty, staff and students about their presence on campus by passing out brochures and handouts. The participating librarians will also be encouraging the UCI community to sign a petition in support for UC librarians.

“Librarians have a role on campus as well,” Brown said. “We are involved in people’s academic careers, but are a bit too invisible. And the university wants us to just go away and not press the issue.”

Further discussion with the UC committee regarding the librarians’ salary issue will continue in early May.

Tiffany Liu contributed to this article.