MIDDLE ISLAND — One year after organizing into the CSEA family, the Longwood Library Part-time Unit has negotiated its first contract.
The unit’s negotiating committee began talks with library administrators in December 2021. The contract was settled in June.
With their first union contract, members are seeing improvements that have already created a more positive work environment.
“We had an overwhelmingly positive response to the contract,” said Longwood Library Part-Time Unit Negotiations Team Member Christopher Bendzel. “Everyone was blown away by what we were able to negotiate, which was much better than what people were expecting.”
The library unit’s road to establishing their first contract began with preliminary research.
“I worked with [CSEA Deputy Director of Organizing] Jess Riley to compile a number of contracts that I reviewed to see what other part-time workers had negotiated,” said Longwood Library Part-Time Unit Negotiations Team Member Deborah Scheurich.
The negotiations team also surveyed colleagues to find out what they would most like to see in their first union contract.
“From there, we [the negotiating team led by CSEA Labor Relations Specialist Jimmy Wall]compiled a list of prioritized items that we presented to the administration,” said Scheurich.
As negotiations continued between library administration and the Longwood Library Part-Time Unit Negotiating Committee, our union’s committee reached out to Longwood Library Part-Time Unit Negotiations Team Member Rebecca Goldstein, who is a former member of CSEA’s full-time workers unit at the library and has prior negotiating experience.
“I learned from past negotiations that you can make a FOIL request [Freedom of Information Law, which requires public agencies to disclose documents and data],” said Goldstein. “I wanted to know where the library’s money was and how much of it they had. Having that [information]gave us a strong case to advocate for the things that we wanted.”
If there was one piece of advice that the negotiating team members could go back and give themselves before negotiations began, it would be to exercise more patience. Feeling frustrated about how slow negotiations are moving or receiving an unacceptable contract offer from management is part of the process.
Knowing their colleagues were struggling with those same feelings, team members sent monthly emails to unit members. In those updates, negotiating team members reminded the workers that contract negotiations are a process; results do not always happen overnight and details cannot be discussed while negotiations are active.
While electronic communication played an important role, the team never underestimated the importance of one-on-one conversations.
“It’s one thing to see a line in an email that says, ‘we’re fighting for you.’ It’s another thing to be standing in front of someone where they can see the sincerity in your eyes,” said Goldstein.
Recognizing the need for personal contact, it was a strategic move to make sure that everyone on the contract negotiations team worked a different area or shift at the library.
Organizing the library unit has also brought the group closer together.
“If someone works on Monday, they’ll never see someone who works on Tuesday,” said Longwood Library Part-Time Unit Negotiations Team Member Kelli Schuessler. “A great byproduct of organizing is getting to know people that you never had the opportunity to speak with before.”
— Wendi Bowie