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Library Budget Spares Jobs, Sunday Hours By MATTHEW ARTZ

Friday June 10, 2005

In a move that signals a truce in the library’s six-month labor-management war, the Library Board of Trustees approved Wednesday a $12.8 million budget that would avoid layoffs and open the door to restoring Sunday hours. 

After months of union leaders bashing Berkeley Library Director Jackie Griffin, SEIU Local 535 Northern Regional Director Joyce Baird thanked Griffin for her work in reaching a compromise on staffing and settling future labor unrest. 

Under the deal, hammered out with the help of City Manager Phil Kamlarz, the library will cut fewer clerical positions than first proposed, and a mediator will be retained to handle labor disputes. 

“I think [the fight] is settled,” said Tom Dufour, a reference librarian, who has been critical of Griffin at past meetings. 

The labor-managment dispute exploded in January when Griffin issued a budget proposal that called for layoffs and a major reorganization plan to help close an estimated $1 million budget deficit. In the following months several employees told the board that the library was understaffed and that management ignored their suggestions to stave off the budget crisis. 

“It’s been a rough year,” Griffin said. “I want to build trust back up again.”  

Griffin said she regretted releasing budget projections in January, when revenue estimates were still hazy. “What I thought was being fiscally responsible led to a whole lot of tension,” she said. 

The library’s financial fortunes turned around two months ago. Having anticipated a 2 percent increase in the city’s library tax for next year, library officials were surprised when California Personal Income Growth—an indicator that can be used to raise the library tax—came in at 4.8 percent. 

If the City Council approves the tax rate, the library will receive an additional $556,980. When coupled with over $600,000 saved last year by not filling vacant positions, the library fund is now nearly $1 million in the black. The City Council will vote on the tax rate on June 28. 

The final budget calls for reducing nearly five full-time positions, all of which are vacant, as opposed to the initial proposal, which called for laying off the equivalent of 12 full-time employees. 

The sudden influx of money has board members now pushing Griffin to restore library service on Sundays. 


Griffin said she had no doubt that “we will be open on Sunday for some amount of time” but declined to estimate the cost of reopening the library on Sundays or when service would be restored. 

Griffin credited the library’s controversial program to install tracking devices (RFIDs) on materials with enabling it to consider extending hours, which were cut last year to save money. 

“If we can open on Sundays, it will be because RFID has allowed us to use staff in more efficient ways,” she said. 

But the technology, first approved by the board last June and scheduled to be fully implemented this August, is opposed by local free speech advocates. Berkeleyans Organized for Library Defense, an anti-RFID group, has joined forces with local anti-tax organization Berkeleyans Against Soaring Taxes to lobby the council to reject the higher library tax as long as the library intends to implement RFID. 

With the board scheduled to host a forum on the technology June 20, board members split over whether the program could be dismantled at such a late stage. Ying Lee, the newest board member, argued that the library should not consider RFID a done deal. “I’m going into the meeting with an open mind,” she said. 

However, Board President Mary Anderson said she didn’t view the forum as a chance for the board to turn its back on RFID, but an opportunity to see “how to make the system work best for Berkeley.”