The City of Yonkers and the SEIU 704b labor union have reached a tentative agreement in their year-long contract renegotiation for the Yonkers Public Library. This agreement may soon see full service resume to all three library branches on Sundays after weeks of closures.
A drastic action
The workers throughout Yonkers Public Library took an unprecedented step on Sunday, September 10th. All three branches closed their doors to the public in a collective protest. The closure marked a significant escalation in the ongoing contract negotiations between the library workers’ union and the YPL’s administration led by Director, Jesse Montero.
These contract negotiations typically transpire as a formality. However, this year greatly involved the greater City government. While the YPL’s administration and Board of Trustees manage the Library, City Hall still sets the budget; hence their inclusion.
On the other side, SEIU 704b represents the library workers. And these workers are known for being the lowest-paid employees on the city payroll. So, when contract negotiations broke down in August, the staff took a dramatic stand by refusing to work on Sundays until they had a new contract.
The union clarified that this is not a strike. Working Sundays at the YPL has always been a voluntary arrangement. Now, the staff simply do not volunteer for these Sunday shifts. Ergo, it is not a strike. But, without staff, the past two Sundays have shuttered the doors of the Riverfront, Grinton I. Will, and Crestwood branches.
Residents with scheduled meetings and classes found themselves left in the lurch. And the YPL’s website offered limited explanations for the closures. While both sides remain tight-lipped about the ongoing negotiations, the community waited in suspense for the doors of the beloved institution to reopen.
A meeting of the Board
Unusual anticipation built for normally dull monthly Board of Trustees meeting held on Thursday September 21st. The boardroom on the fourth floor of the Riverfront library saw 16 members and administrators sat around the long conference table in the center of the room. Encircling the perimeter were about three dozen chairs filled with residents and varied library staff.
Board President, Nancy Maron, led the meeting by acknowledging the awkwardness in the room while still attempting to conduct regular business. Library Director Jesse Montero took a few moments at the onset to laud the summer successes of different programs. He also announced and thanked two dedicated staff members on their recent promotions.
But, it wasn’t long before the contract negotiations became the meeting’s focus. Before the first registered speakers could begin, a serious-looking man in a suit requested that Director Montero meet him in the hallway for an impromptu break. That man was SEIU Local 704 union President, Dominick Savarese.
When Savarese and Montero returned, the union president announced that after a long day of talks with Mayor Mike Spano and Deputy Mayor Steve Levy, a tentative agreement had been reached. This news immediately changed the atmosphere of the room; confirmed by the applause given by all attendees.
Public comments nonetheless
With most of the tension lifted, President Maron allowed all registered speakers to continue if they still wished. Some current YPL staff took the opportunity to remind the board of their persistent dedication and hard work this year. Noting that even with morale low and resentment building during these negotiations, it was “time to come together and heal the cracks in this library.”
Many residents also spoke during this public session. Familiar community member, Eileen O’Connor, shared her long history with the YPL. While deeming it a “hub” for the city, she recalled the countless visits she, along with her spouse Liz and their daughter Maeve, had at the Will Library. And then even more regular visits at Riverfront after it’s opening in 2002. Liz followed Eileen by encouraging everyone to support the staff because, “librarians just deserve love,” noting the recent national trend in political attacks on these public institutions.
Back to normal…soon
With the public comments concluded, big questions still loomed. Firstly, what would be the timeline of this tentative deal? Union President Savarese assured the crowd that paperwork would be in-hand this coming Monday. But, he conceded that the revision process could drag on with the details. And, even when the contract is fully accepted by both parties, the City Council must still vote to approve these funds from the budget. Since that may not happen until a council meeting in November, what of the Sunday closures?
While progress has been made, the union isn’t taking anything for granted. It is expected they will continue to not volunteer for Sunday work over the next few weeks until the contract is fully complete. Thus, the library will remain closed a bit longer. But, at least there is now light at the end of this tunnel, and hope for all of the library-lovers in Yonkers.