Photograph by Steven Higgs
MCPL board member Randy Paul, front, charged his fellow board members with bias against a proposed library union. He also criticized the board’s refusal to even discuss televising its work sessions, during which rules for a vote will be debated. Board members Janice Stockton and Fred Risinger look on.
Monroe County Public Library (MCPL) Board members heard their commitment to employee rights and open government challenged at a contentious meeting on Oct. 17. Questions came from inside and outside the board and the library.
Board member, VITAL volunteer and employee advocate Randy Paul assailed his fellow board members for drafting a unionization proposal that would have required 75 percent of union-eligible employees to cast votes before a library union could be formed.
“If we were to hold that same standard for the election we’re about to have for mayor and city council, there would be no city government,” he said. “We wouldn’t have a president. We wouldn’t have a Congress. We wouldn’t have a Supreme Court.”
With backing from union leaders and others, Paul said the 75-percent threshold was an example of the board’s prejudice against the union.
“This board has shown its bias by even considering the 75-percent rule,” he said.
Paul likewise charged that Board President Stephen Moberly and the rest of the board are delaying consideration of the union issue in an attempt to neutralize it.
In another action, the board delayed consideration of a “media policy” that would, among many limits, require employees to coordinate with library administrators on any “corrections, commentary, guest editorials, and letters to the editor.”
Moberly responded to Paul’s criticisms of the 75-percent participation threshold by saying it was nothing more than a “discussion point.”
“It isn’t written in stone,” he said. “It’s simply for something to be discussed.”
Moberly said the board asked the library's attorneys to explore how other libraries had handled unionization. He said the 75-percent standard was used in Indianapolis when the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library unionized.
Paul questioned why Indianapolis would be a model for Bloomington and the Monroe County library, which he called “special.”
“We will lose part of our identity if we start turning around and following other libraries to solve our problems,” he said.
David Warrick, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union that represents workers in Indiana and Kentucky, said the Indianapolis unionization was especially contentious and took two years to complete.
He agreed with Paul. “Seventy-four percent could vote for the union, and they still don’t get the union,” he said. “That’s a biased system.”
Bloomington citizen and Monroe County Community School Corp. Board member Valerie Merriam called the MCPL board’s inclusion of a 75-percent requirement in its initial draft “a recommendation to squash.”
“To me, putting forward a resolution with 75 percent says you don’t have faith in your employees,” she said.
Union organizers said after the meeting that the board adopted more than just the 75-percent participation requirement from the Indianapolis-Marion County experience. The union leaders produced a copy of that library's “Resolution Establishing Policies Concerning Employee Organizations” that matches the Monroe County board’s proposal word for word, including the title.
Indianapolis librarians voted to organize, with more than an 80-percent turnout.
Moberly took exception to Paul’s assertion that board members had made up their minds.
But board member Fred Risinger said his was made up.
“If we get a good resolution, I’m going to give the staff the right to choose,” he said. “I think it ought to be a majority vote like it is for any other democratic election.”
Moberly disputed Paul’s allegation that the board was putting off action on a union resolution in hopes that its momentum would wane.
Calling Paul’s comments “unfortunate,” Moberly said he anticipated the union issue would be the subject of multiple board work sessions in the coming months, starting in November.
Paul countered that he and Moberly had engaged in “heated debate” at the last board work session and was told if he wanted the union resolution on the board agenda he would have to bring it up himself.
And that led to another point of contention – the board’s refusal to televise its work sessions on Community Access Television Services (CATS), which operates out of the library.
Paul said citizens should be able to decide for themselves who was accurately characterizing their exchange at the last meeting by watching it on CATS.
And he argued that the union work sessions should be televised because the issue has broad community interest.
“I think the public is concerned about it,” he said. “I think the public is watching it.”
Paul noted that, since last January, the seven-member board has averaged only five members at its monthly work sessions. Expecting citizens to come to the meetings is unfair and unrealistic, he said, especially when they could be rebroadcast multiple times on CATS.
The work sessions, he said, are where issues are debated and compromises are reached. Meetings where action is taken are usually little more than “a formality.”
Paul said he had heard only two objections to airing the sessions – that board members are uncomfortable with televising them and that no other public bodies in town broadcasts theirs.
“If you put it on a scale in terms of benefits, the positives and negatives, the positives clearly outweigh the negatives,” he argued.
As he did at the board’s September meeting, Paul moved to have all future work sessions televised.
The rest of the board sat mute and let the motion die for lack of a second, as also happened in September.
Interim Library Director Sara Laughlin introduced the two-page “Draft Media Policy,” calling it a “hole” in the library’s handbook. It begins: “This policy is intended to provide guidance to library employees regarding communications with the media.”
She called it “a fairly typical media policy” in terms of who speaks for the library that is intended to provide guidance for employees. It would not apply to board members.
Creating such a policy presents unique challenges for librarians, Laughlin said.
“As you know, libraries are very dedicated to First Amendment rights, to freedom of expression,” she said. “We struggle with a policy that says who can speak for the library. But we also realize that the library has a responsibility to have a clear statement and to have somebody who can speak for the organization.”
That somebody, according to the draft – the “official spokesperson for the library” – is “the library director, or the director’s designee.”
Media inquiries and any incident or situation that “occurs at the library that is likely to rise to the level of a news story” should be promptly reported, the draft says. The same guidance applies to any employee contact with the media, “no matter how brief.”
Paragraph 15 of the 17-paragraph policy says, in italics, “Library employees may express personal opinions to the media. It is the employees’ responsibility to state that they are not speaking as representatives of the Library.”
Action on the policy died when no one seconded a motion for approval, which meant there was no board discussion.
Moberly said the media policy should be discussed at a work session.
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