The Berkeley Public Library, already beset with labor-management problems, risked further alienating organized labor this month when it hired a non-union firm to do its janitorial work.
Starting Oct. 1 the library replaced its unionized janitorial contractor, Universal Building Services of Richmond, with Oakland-based Nova Commercial Company. The Library Board unanimously approved a three-year, $500,000 contract with Nova last month without asking if the company hired union labor.
“If I had known, I would have abstained,” said trustee Darryl Moore, adding that library staff should have addressed the union issue. “It’s disappointing. I thought that the city had some kind of preference system for union employers.”
City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque told the Daily Planet that the U.S. Supreme Court has prohibited local governments from taking into account whether contractors use union labor.
Universal’s three-year contract with the library expired at the end of September.
The janitorial contract with Nova comes as library employees have feuded with Director Jackie Griffin over staff restructuring at the library and the implementation of a new system for checking out books.
Librarian Andrea Segall e-mailed councilmembers Oct. 5 about the non-union contract. She warned that the janitors “may lose their health care, have wages slashed, or even lose their jobs.”
Nova, however, might lose its contract with the library. Moore said Library Director Jackie Griffin e-mailed trustees that the library has been displeased with Nova’s work and might seek to terminate the contract based on poor performance.
SEIU Local 1877, which represents janitors, staged a brief protest outside the library earlier this month, but has not returned telephone calls for this story.
Library Trustee Ying Lee said she had been informed that the union had called off its picket.
In the past, Berkeley had hired janitors in-house, but recently the city has contracted out some of the jobs to outside firms, all of which used union labor. Janitors employed by those firms make a base salary of $11 an hour plus health benefits through a regional contract established with Local 1877.
The five janitors covered under the new library contract must earn at least $11.04 an hour with health benefits ($22,984 a year) or $12.84 an hour without health benefits to comply with Berkeley’s Living Wage Ordinance.
Janitors who are city employees make a base of salary of $44,400 a year plus benefits.
Nova did not respond to telephone calls for this story.
Community Relations Librarian Alan Bern said that Nova did not enter the lowest bid, but outranked other bidders because it has a long history of working with libraries and offered strong references.
Should the library terminate its contract with Nova, it would then be free to contract with the company offering the next highest ranking bid.