Library board OKs staffing cuts: Management, union will work to reduce impact

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Published in the San Jose Mercury News on Oct. 3, 2011

Posted: 10/03/2011 09:38:10 PM PDT

SANTA CRUZ – On a 6-3 vote Monday, the city-county library board approved a new staffing plan for the 10-branch system that cuts jobs 25 percent.

The plan, created to match a revised library service model approved by the board in April, cuts jobs from 111 to 83. After unfilled vacancies and retirements are counted, the number of clerks who are expected to be laid off because their job was reclassified is 11. Others will have their hours trimmed.

Dozens of library workers and representatives from the Service Employees International Union gathered under umbrellas at the Central Branch to galvanize public support. They wore purple rain ponchos and yellow crime scene tape like sashes around their shoulders.

Cathy Bond, a 49-year-old clerk who expects to lose her job after 14 years at the library, said she doesn’t know how she and her husband, who was laid off from his job in 2005, are going to survive financially. The Live Oak couple is facing increased medical expenses due to his high blood pressure, she said.

“We’ve cut back as far as we can at home,” she said.

In approving the cuts, the board urged library management to continue talking with the union and city’s human resources representative to hammer out ways to reduce the impact of the cuts on employees, who are classified as city workers. Barring any changes, layoff notices will go out in early November.

Board member Mark Stone, a county supervisor, sought a month’s delay, but that motion failed on a 5-4 vote. Now that details about the impact of a new service model are known, he said the board should take more time to absorb it.

“This is too dramatic a step to take too quickly,” he said.

After years of fiscal trouble in the $11 million system, the board approved increasing hours at all 10 branches, as well as setting aside greater funds for technology and reserves. But the plan, which is supposed to go into effect in January, called for cutting costs by relying on greater use of volunteers and making other efficiencies.

Staffing cuts were called for in all models studied by the board, but the exact impact wasn’t outlined until this summer. The staffing plan would save $569,000 from January to June 2012, and $900,000 during the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

County Supervisor Ellen Pirie, another board member, said she didn’t want to delay “if postponing the decision means we can’t deliver to the public by January, what we said we would deliver.”

Board President Barbara Gorson agreed, saying she couldn’t support a delay after four years of studying how to modernize the library system and cut costs.

Union negotiator Leslie Auerbach said the board’s decision to increase hours while cutting spending created “unreasonable expectations” for staffing.

“We ask that you think again about your responsibilities as trustees – your responsibility to each and every one of the people who relies not only on this library system, but on public servants who can see beyond blind panic and political expediency,” she said. “Give us a reason to believe in you. Build don’t destroy.”

Jennifer Laskin, a teacher at Renaissance High in the Pajaro Valley, urged the board not to cut staff.

“Libraries are paramount to educating youth and ensuring they become responsible leaders and good stewards of our community,” she said.

Bond, who works 36 hours per week as a clerk, said her education level didn’t qualify her for the revised library assistant position that replaced clerks. She is worried she won’t be considered for other city jobs.

“I don’t see myself being a fire deputy chief or a wastewater chief,” she said. “These things are just completely out of my reach in terms of qualifications.”

Clerk Karen James, 56, who has also worked for the library for 14 years, said she can’t afford to be cut from full-time hours to 20 per week.

“I was told I had to reapply for my job, and I did it, and after the fact I felt I was kind of set up for that,” she said. “I was going to be cut.”

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