Illustration by Christine Hipp.

Though the UC system may be in dire straits financially, some of its most vulnerable workers have achieved a small victory. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) union ratified a wage increase for librarians in the UC system late last month.

“We believe this is a fair proposal that rewards librarians for their dedication and their hard work, while being mindful of the tough economic climate the university is facing,” said labor relations contract negotiator Peter Chester in an official statement released Oct. 10.

Aspects of the agreement include merit-based wage increases.

“An employee [would] meet with his or her supervisor and be evaluated on an objective set of criteria pertaining to the job. Based on this, the supervisor determines the merit increase,” said Dianne Klein, a media specialist from the UC Office of the President.

This increase was prompted in part by a similar increase being given to other nonrepresented academic faculty.

“The librarians, who are considered academic employees, were in effect put on the same wage schedule as nonrepresented academic employees,” Klein said. “The university’s financial crisis informs everything we do.”

UC librarians are not alone in their negotiations with the UC system. Their increase negotiations were among several union contract negotiations recently settled.

“With 12 systemwide unions and 14 local bargaining units, the university is almost constantly in labor negotiations,” Klein said.

Despite this gain, the UC library system remains on difficult terrain.

“The UC library unit is pretty small — we had about 420 [employees] last time we negotiated in 2008, and we’re down to 350 now. This is through attrition,” said UC-AFT representative Kenneth Lyons, a UCSC reference librarian who has been at the university for 10 years. “With fewer and fewer librarians, the workload has increased.”

In addition, UC librarian wages don’t measure up to other systems’ standards.

“We’re behind CSU librarians by about 20 percent, and we’re behind community colleges as well,” Lyons said.

Though the McHenry Library’s recent facelift may project a hopeful air, Lyons is less optimistic.

“There’s not as much money for materials anymore,” he said. “We were lucky enough to be able to refurbish McHenry, but they started that project 15 years ago.”

The negotiations themselves went about as well as could have been expected, Lyons said.

“I feel like both sides came to some understandings this time,” Lyons said. “They agreed there were some recruitment and retention problems in the UC library system, and that something needs to be done about that disparity. If it hadn’t been for rank and file actions to inform and get support, I think nothing would have happened.”

The negotiations were representative of a give-and-take between the UC system and the unions it deals with.

“The university appreciates deeply the AFT’s willingness to craft an agreement that recognizes the current fiscal crisis we’re facing,” said UC vice president for systemwide human relations Dwaine Duckett in a February UCOP press release.

Though aspects of the UC librarians’ contract have been hammered out, the entirety of the contract will be subject to renegotiation next September.

“We’ll be back at the bargaining table next year,” Lyons said. “The library workforce is shrinking, so it costs [the UC] less to bring us up to parity with other universities in the system.”