(A fair wage for every employee, even for municipal workers, is truly one of the best things any community can hope for.)

I  joined the CWA, Communications Workers of America, in 1995 as a Steward in the local 3170 branch representing the Alachua County Library. I faced a learning curve to get up and over for sure. But eventually I sat in enough negotiations, read enough contracts,  met enough people and found my footing within the group.

After my second year as a Steward I ran and was elected for a three year term to be the head of the Library District’s union, making me a VP in the larger CWA group called local 3170. I ran two more times and served in this capacity for a total of ten years. During this time I organized our contracts, sat as part head of negotiations for all benefits of our  workers and also defended every nut case difference that came up between workers and administration within the library district. I tried to settle all grievances fairly. I felt being previously  an owner of my leather shops for 14 years and then being employed as a Mall  store manager for five years might help me to see each side of every conflict, or grievance, fairly. This was my aim.

I quickly found the  workers I helped to represent were facing boards, administrators, who were either made up of elected county officials or  made up of people appointed to these positions by those same elected officials. My first real awakening came when I began to think some,  just some,  people who were deciding on what salaries should be for many of our county workers couldn’t tell  a hammer from a water pipe, not a high voltage wire from a telephone pole, a house from a mansion, a pot hole from a curb or a book from a wrench. I felt this could be  problematic. Luckily, the director of our library district at that time did too. She had, in fact, asked the CWA if they would become a representing Union for her own Library district! This is how bad it was……

You see basically  the governing board of our library was,as I have said, made up of elected officials. They wanted to be re-elected and they also knew the community liked the Libraries. But they also knew the library buildings  were not going to disappear no matter what they did or didn’t pay the people who worked in them. Raise requests, even from the library director, were hard to get through the board. To be fair, Florida had not yet seen the huge increases of property values which would later lead to greater tax collections at that time. But one  influencing factor in all of the prevailing causes of the low  wages paid in Alachua County during the 1990’s, I would think, was what these board members thought was actually  in their best interest: they wanted newer buildings, shinier sidewalks leading up to them and more items for check out along with more open hours at each Library  location. So just how bad did it get?

By the time I took over as head negotiator in 1997 the pay scale in the Alachua County Library District and in most of Gainesville’s  needed municipal units were on a tilt, a bad one. My Stewards Ruth and Bill got to work. What we found after three years of analyzing and collecting data was Gainesville had a CPI ( consumer price index)and cost of living , (COL),equal to most of Florida’s major cities, falling only3% behind Fort Lauderdale,while being equal to Orlando, Tampa and Miami. So it cost as much to live in Gainesville as it did most other areas  of Florida at that time! Yet our Librarians were being paid a full 38% below the States average pay for these same Library positions held in these other city libraries. That’s a tough sled. It made the Alachua County Library District a revolving door for many talented Libraians who left for better employment.

Really, I’m thinking mostly due of politics, the pay range in Alachua county was so bad in comparison to other counties in Florida every municipality in our city  was facing similar impossibly low pay grade ranges as well. But no one, in politics or not,  gives politely when they are asked to yield  to an economic stream they don’t want to go down. Oddly, I have to say I thought most of the other side of any table I sat at during my years as a CWA negotiator was filled with mostly good hearted people-all exceptions excluded. But people  have their own personal interests and goals to consider so nothing is ever as black or white as you hope it might be. Especially, when it comes to money.

Fortunately, with a huge effort by my Steward Bill and with the corroborative effort of other CWA officials, , we were able to document a wrong and convince our local boards to try and fix it. The first 3 year contract I signed had a 18%  raise for Librarians in conjunction with  three years of a  2% COLA(cost of living adjustment)each year along with 3  years of paid for performance raises of 5,4 or 3% . The next three year contract contained a 10% raise, the same COLA and the same paid for performance raises. The end result of these six years was our Librarian wage fell approximately just 6-8% below the current state average. Eventually, in my last three year contract, we got up to even with the state average in pay for our workers. It would be amiss to not mention during the same years we, the CWA Union,  won benefit rights for significant others, extended family definitions for the sake of bereavement, increased the over all accrual of earned time off for all employees ( an accrual improvement that was later cutback for new  first five year employees) and added an optional Holiday each year  for all employees.

In addition, after three years of study and gathering statistics we, the CWA, was able to change sick leave and vacation time all into one leave bank called PTO for each employee. This change gives the employee a right to their earned  time off without strings attached to it , strings like-just how sick are you?  The successful bargaining during these years at the table for the library district and  with Gainesville’s other Municipal contracts was a result of a huge effort on many people’s part.Truthfully, the time and effort spent  on making  these changes happen was well worth it.

A fair wage for every employee, even for municipal workers, is truly one of the best thing any community can hope for. Remember, we’re all neighbors. We all need water, power, places to study and roads to travel on. I have seen it first hand, over twelve years, how there is a definite need for contract negotiations to take place between the elected officials and the  private workers or municipal workers of any city. All workers need a voice, a clout, or a way to right wrongs in their community whether these wrongs have developed out of mistakes from past decisions or from out and out wrong doings.

If we lived in a fair world then municipality workers might not need to have the right and ability to negotiate every aspect of their jobs-but me? I haven’t found that world yet. Does anyone really want an elected official to tell them what their family should be able to afford to eat? And then have these same elected officials authorize to pay for building all of your  town’s new Wal-marts  store’s needed infrastructure with your tax dollars? Not so much.

So in a nut shell….Governor Walker is trying to bust the union in his state-Wisconsin-trying to end the right of municipal workers,teachers and alike, to negotiate pay raises. At at the same time he is offering tax incentives to outside businesses to encourage them to come and build in his city. I’ve read these business incentives are equal to the amount of money he is trying to not pay his teachers…

We need unions…we did in the   1930s,,and we do now. Meanwhile, please enjoy your up-coming weekend off, another right the  Unions won for you.

Franque

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