Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Trouble with the Union

This one's going to irritate some people, but what else is new.

A library in the Empire State is having trouble with the union, or rather the union has been having trouble with it, and they haven't been able to agree on a contract for two years. Seems that the librarians found out they were making less than other librarians in the county, and they didn't like it.

"The Nassau County Library Association conducted an annual voluntary survey of the county's libraries not long ago. The survey found that for the 2004-05 fiscal year, the average salary for an experienced librarian was more than $58,000, whereas in Baldwin, the same experienced librarians earned an average of $46,350. " Has anyone seen the obvious solution yet? Come on, what should those allegedly underpaid librarians do?

According to the longer story, "Low salary, many employees said, is one of the main reasons that Baldwin Public Library has lost hardworking staff to other libraries, or employees have moved out-of-state because they can't afford to live here." So who's left? The non-hardworking staff? It looks like this problem is solving itself.

So the union is demanding a big pay raise. But the union is demanding more money for everyone, of course, because that's the way unions work. Unfortunately, not everyone deserves more money, and apparently the library board there is willing to lose the best employees to higher paying libraries. In fact, considering that it seems to be an admitted fact that the most ambitious librarians have already left for greener pastures, a big raise now would be rewarding the less ambitious ones. Where exactly is the logic for a big across-the-board raise here?

The Annoyed Librarian is all for librarians making more money, and wants everyone to fight the good fight. But the obvious solution if you're a Baldwin librarian and aren't happy with your salary is to go over to one of those higher-paying libraries. Obviously the Baldwin Library administrators or whomever have decided they'll settle for those librarians who'll settle for less.

The poster over at the Union Librarian is named "An Injury to One is an Injury to All." Horsefeathers! I'm not injured at all by this. And neither are the higher-paid librarians in the the other libraries. The argument could be made that the librarians who haven't managed to leave Baldwin are being hurt because they're not being paid as well as other librarians. Does this make sense? How are the librarians any worse off than before they knew how badly they were paid relative to others? What possible complaint can they have? That everyone isn't paid the same regardless of what they do or where they work? Are public libraries a form of public support? Is that their function? I know all about the Americans with No Abilities Act, but this may be going too far. What if some of us don't want to link arms and sing the Internationale? What if, instead, we'd rather do a great job and get rewarded for it?

Fighting the good fight for higher librarian salaries means encouraging great people to become librarians, discouraging not-so-great people, making library schools rigorous and demanding, limiting the market, and encouraging great librarians to demand more from their libraries, not expecting library boards to raise your salary just because you claim you're underpaid. If great people become librarians and then raise the talent and salary bar, then a victory for one is a victory for all.

There is no "just wage" for librarians; that's just not the way markets work. If you really want more money, go out and find a better offer. The hard truth is that if you're not being offered more money somewhere else, then you're not underpaid.


Taupey, the Bush Kangaroo said...

Using logic and market theory on this nuggetis about as effective as speaking Esperanto to the Chinese.

Colective bargaining associations (unions) came into being because there was an excessive asymmetry of information as between employers and employees. A subsidiary but largely unrelated element was the improvement of outrageously dangerous and easily remedied working conditions. These reasons for "union" activity were eliminated by WWII. And I sue "by" in both senses: as the result of and at the time of.

Now, sixty odd years hence, who are the union membership? Largely public employees. Who labor neither under a lack of information--most public employee salaries are openly posted, nor under anything resembling unfair conditions, particularly with OSHA et al. at the ready.

So what is a modern labor union except a collectivist, socialist, busibody organization that exists to extract the highest wage for the least productive whilst, as point out, stifling initative and reward?

It's all very Vonnegut:

Annoyed Librarian said...

Gotcha, FW!

miriam said...

It is not as easy to switch jobs as you so blithely suggest. Some people are vested, or almost vested, in retirement plans.

Yes, it can be done. It took me over a year to find a better job with more pay. There are not a lot of jobs out there!

PS: My last library took 3 years to get its first contract.

Annoyed Librarian said...

miriam, you're absolutely right. I know it's not easy to change jobs. I waited around in one job for a long time before the right job came along. However, the best way to raise your salary is to be competitive. If no one is offering you more money, then there's no strong case that you're underpaid. And I really do think it's a HARD truth, one that strikes me every month when I see my paycheck and my bills.