Camden County Librarians, Support Staff Rally for New Contracts


Representatives from two of the lowest-paid and most predominantly female unions in the employ of the county government say that lengthy negotiations have stalled.

By Matt Skoufalos | April 18, 2017

Library workers rally outside the Vogelson branch of the Camden County library system in Voorhees. Credit: Julie Tozer.

After months of working under expired contracts, workers in the Camden County library system are looking for new deals.

Members of AFSCME Local 1454, which represents Camden County librarians, and of CWA Local 1014, which represents library support staff, earn the lowest starting salaries of any county employees and haven’t seen raises in years, spokespersons said.

AFSCME 1454 President Julie Tozer, who is also the Branch Manager for the Nilsa I. Cruz-Perez Downtown Branch of the Camden County Library System, said the 47 librarians in her union have been working under a contract that expired in December 2015, and which took almost six years to broker.

Negotiations opened in late December 2015 and continued into January and March 2016 before the two sides declared an impasse, Tozer said. Two more meetings with a state mediator also ended “really far apart,” and talks have since stalled, she said.

“We think it’s gone on beyond a regular negotiation at this point,” Tozer said.

Similarly, six negotiation sessions have proven fruitless for CWA 1014, said trustee Amber Pallante, a senior library assistant at the South County Regional Branch in Atco. Pallante said the 104 library support staffers she represents love their jobs but are struggling to make ends meet.

“We’re all here because we’re passionate about what libraries do for the community, but they are not willing to pay us a fair wage,” she said.

Recommended pay scales for librarians in a multi-county system like Camden County’s. Credit: New Jersey Library Association.

The eight-branch Camden County library system serves residents from 21 municipalities.

In 2015, it was ranked the sixth-busiest of 298 libraries in the state and fifth-busiest among the 14 county library systems, according to a June 2016 report from NJ Spotlight.

But the salaries of its professionals and support staff fall far behind the minimum salary recommendations put forth by the New Jersey Library Association (NJLA) in 2016.

Pallante said her union is the lowest-paid in the Camden County government, with the starting salary for a library page ($8.92 per hour) coming in at less than the $10 hourly rate of a Wawa cashier. Comparatively, she said, no other unionized county job starts at less than $17 an hour.

Three-quarters of her members are part-timers, and 65 percent of them make less than $15 an hour—far less than the $26 hourly wage the National Low Income Housing Coalition said it takes to afford a two-bedroom apartment in New Jersey in 2016.

“I’ve had employees that have lost their houses because they can’t pay their mortgages on the salaries they’re paid,” Pallante said. “The main push this negotiation was to bring our bottom people up to $15 an hour.”

The highest-earning positions on the CWA 1014 pay scale aren’t even available because the county isn’t hiring them, she said.

CWA 1014 Union Trustee Amber Pallante. Credit: Amber Pallante.

“When jobs come open, they make them part-time and they cut the hours,” Pallante said.

“There’s nowhere to move up because they cut the higher-level positions. They change job descriptions, and we’ve got a lot of people working out of title.”

Tozer said the librarians she represents, who are all master’s-degreed professionals, many with supervisory and budgetary responsibilities, start at $22.99 per hour, a rate of pay that hasn’t budged since 2008.

That translates to about $45,000 annually for a 35-hour week, about $5 per hour and $5,000 per year less than the NJLA-recommended wage scale.

They’re seeking a a 2.25-percent to 2.5-percent annual increase, which Tozer said is on par with the raises other Camden County unions have received in recent negotiations.

New hires in the library program also have less paid time off than other county employees do. After 10 years on the job, staffers in most other county departments get one more personal day and three more vacation days than do librarians, who have been publicly told they’re considered essential services, and must often report to work when other county offices are closed for inclement weather. Even on the normal schedule, county libraries are open three-and-a-half days a year in which other county offices are closed.

“Some of our branches are open 67 hours a week,” Tozer said. “If we didn’t show up to work, none of these buildings would run, and the public would not be served.

“No one becomes a librarian expecting to make tons of money,” she said. “But the other kinds of compensation that could make up for that are being chipped away as well.

Tozer and Pallante both said it’s hard to not feel that their memberships, which are overwhelmingly female, are facing gender-based wage discrimination. Only two of the AFSCME 1454 members are male, and CWA 1014 is 76-percent female. No other county union has a more than 49-percent female makeup, Tozer said.

Workers in the two library unions say they are both predominantly female in their membership and among the lowest-paid county workers. Credit: Julie Tozer.

“There are titles in other units with far lower percentages of women and with lower required qualifications—and, we imagine, lower levels of responsibilities—who are making close to or more than our entry-level salaries,” she said.

“We’re not questioning the value of their work,” Tozer said.

“We would like to receive equal compensation for the work we’re doing or compensation that recognizes the higher levels of qualifications we have.”

Pallante was more blunt.

“We are about 76-percent female right now, and we are the lowest-paid union in Camden County,” she said.

“This is a county that last May hosted Hillary Clinton, and stood up there and said they are for pay equity. It’s demoralizing when I see we have a director that makes more than $100,000 a year and an assistant director that makes maybe $90,000 a year.”

Tozer and Pallante both said that even a successful contract negotiation must be timed appropriately. One union’s contract agreement is often used as leverage against the other during negotiations, putting additional pressure on the holdouts.

“Our CWA colleagues were told in their most recent negotiation session by the [library] director that she could not pay them more because that would mean she would have to pay the librarians more,” Tozer said.

Pallante said librarians and support staff comprise a vital safety net for a broad cross-section of county residents, helping with necessary but undervalued services like tax preparation, job searches, adult literacy, and children’s programming.

“We’re all here because we’re passionate about what libraries do for the community, but they are not willing to pay us a fair wage,” she said.

Camden County Communications Director Dan Keashen said the county doesn’t discuss contract talks, but provided the following statement.

“The county will continue to negotiate in good faith with the collective bargaining unit and not through the media. Nevertheless, the salaries and the contract that is being offered to both units is equal to or in certain cases provides better pay than surrounding county library contracts. Comparing apples to apples is the ultimate barometer in fairness, not other agencies with individuals that work in other fields. That said, we are continuing our dialogue and looking forward to resolving the outstanding contracts.”

Get more local news that matters. Check out NJ Pen on Facebook and Twitter, or click here to become a supporter.


Comments are closed.