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After 3 years of talks, South Portland library union to vote on employment contract

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After 3 years of talks, South Portland library union to vote on employment contract

SOUTH PORTLAND — The city and representatives of the fledgling library union have reached a tentative labor contract.

Library workers have scheduled an Aug. 6 meeting to discuss and vote on the proposal. If approved by the 16-member bargaining unit, the City Council could vote on the contract at its Aug. 17 meeting.

The tentative contract could signal the end of a long and contentious effort by the library workers to form a union in response to what they perceived to be management problems at the library.

The city and union officials have been negotiating since library workers voted in 2006 to join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Negotiations have also been interrupted over the last three years by turnover at all levels, including AFSCME staff, the city manager, library director and human resources department.

In April, the city and union officials met with a state panel overseen by the Maine Labor Relations Council, which issued a report of facts on issues dividing the two sides.

Although neither the city nor library will discuss those issues, library workers and management have previously disagreed publicly about staffing levels and hours of operation.

The confidential fact-finding report was issued to both sides about a month ago. If the two sides don't approve the tentative agreement, the report could be released and the dispute settled in arbitration, where contractual terms would be imposed by the state. 

Library Director Kevin Davis said he hopes the tentative contract will be approved by the library workers and the City Council. 

"It's been a long, drawn-out process," Davis said. "I'm hoping this clears the way for the city and staff to begin working more collaboratively and start doing some great things at the library." 

Human Resources Director John McGough said he and Davis met with AFSCME representative Sylvie Perry and four members of the bargaining unit in a July 22 meeting, facilitated by a state-appointed mediator. Prior to that meeting, which lasted from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., McGough said he and the union representative agreed to support the recommendations of the fact-finding report.

"The city's bargaining team was pleased with the results of the fact-finding report," McGough said. "We believe the board addressed the issues of controversy in a balanced and responsible manner."

Although McGough declined to specifically cite what those issue were, he said both parties had to overcome significant obstacles in order to reach acceptable terms on the contract.

"At this point, both parties want to put those issues behind us and work cooperatively to deliver the best library services that we can to South Portland," McGough said.

Union President Tom Werley did not want to comment when reached Tuesday afternoon at the main library, where he manages the children's room. 

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net