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The Sacramento Public Library Authority imposed furloughs on 241 library employees Friday after six months of intense negotiations with the employees’ union broke down.
Calling it their “last, best and final offer” to International Union of Operating Engineers Local 39, Library Director Rivkah Sass said in a press release Monday that the SPLA will implement 12 furlough days per year for the next two fiscal years for the library workers.
“Wage reductions, furloughs and layoffs are unfortunately more the rule rather than the exception in public employment these days,” Sass said.
But the union sees it as "little more than a 4 percent pay cut" – and they consider the move to implement furloughs to be an “illegal action.”
“We don’t believe the process was completed in accordance with statute,” union representative Joan Bryant said.
Bryant contends that the lead negotiator for the library did not have the authority to declare an impasse to negotiations – and that the furlough action was a Brown Act violation.
“The item wasn’t put on the agenda until 24 hours before the meeting,” Bryant said. “The Government Code requires at least 72 hours’ notice.”
Bryant said the union will turn the matter over to the Public Employees Relations Board for review before seeking legal recourse.
The furloughs will prevent the layoffs of 17 staff members and keep at least three library branches open – creating a savings for the library budget of nearly $2.4 million, according to an SPLA staff report.
“The option that we took was to unilaterally implement furloughs rather than close libraries,” SPLA Board Member and City Councilman Jay Schenirer said.
“The libraries we were looking at closing were in some of the poorer neighborhoods, and we just can’t do that,” he said.
Local 39, the union representing library employees, had other concerns about the failed negotiations, Bryant said, particularly the SPLA decision to hire outside attorneys to negotiate for the library.
“We are sympathetic to public employers because we know there is a lack of resources,” Bryant said, “but if you don’t have money and you’re asking for concessions from workers, how can you bring in high-priced lawyers – except to beat the workers down?”
Schenirer said the use of outside lawyers is common in labor negotiations throughout the public sector.
“Different places do it differently – sometimes you use your own people, and other times you bring in specialists,” Schenirer said. “The unions have the same options.
“You want very good people to do the work of representing the public,” he said. “If management makes the decision that they would rather have more experienced attorneys handle these things, I don’t have a problem with that.”
Furloughs are not uncommon for Sacramento workers – most of the members of Local 39 working for the city were required to take 12 unpaid furlough days over the past two fiscal years, according to the press release.
“Yes, we’ve made concessions in the past,” Bryant said, “but we don’t take kindly to bullying.”
Schenirer said that the proposed amount of furloughs changed throughout the negotiations – first the number was 24 days, then it went to 18 days before he suggested reducing the number to 12.
“If you think about the employees, and think about the cuts that they’re taking, I just thought that one day a month is a more reasonable amount,” he said.
Schenirer said he thinks the preferred alternative to furloughs, however, is for both sides to try to work things out.
According to Bryant, however, the next step for Local 39 does not include attempts to restart negotiations with the Library Authority.
“I don’t know what they expect us to accomplish if we go back to the table,” Bryant said. “If we go back, we will be trying to undo what has happened, and if they were willing to take back the action, they wouldn’t have taken it in the first place.”
The furloughs go into effect immediately, and additional measures in the SPLA resolution – including a phased-in requirement to increase employees’ pension contributions – will begin July 1.
Melissa Corker is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCorker.