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South Portland library employees OK contract; next stop, City Council

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South Portland library employees OK contract; next stop, City Council

SOUTH PORTLAND — The library's first union labor contract will be presented to the City Council for approval on Monday, Aug. 17, after three years of negotiations between the city and library workers.

Library employees approved the agreement last week, according to union President Tom Werley, who declined to provide the vote tally.

Werley said all library employees are part of the bargaining unit, although those who had not signed the payroll deduction card to become an official member of the union by the time the vote was taken were not able to vote on the first contract. They will be covered by the contract, he said, when they sign the fair share or payroll deduction card.

He said the labor contract would be the first since the library workers voted in 2006 to join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Since then, employee turnover at AFSCME, the library and the city has delayed the negotiation process. In addition, city and union officials had to meet with a panel overseen by the Maine Labor Relations Council to create a fact-finding report on issues dividing the two sides.

Had the library employees and city not agreed upon the contract, the dispute would have been settled in arbitration, where the state could impose contractual terms.

"The council has the final word," Werley said of Monday's council meeting. "But I assume it will all turn out fine."

Library Director Kevin Davis said he was fully supportive of the contract in place, and is happy to have a working document to use as a guideline.

"With no clear rules to guide employees, we open ourselves up to chaos," he said. "This contract gives us the guidelines we need, and allows us to move forward."

City Manager Jim Gailey said the negotiations have been a long process for the city, the library union and city administration.

"The issues surrounding this process have been vetted quite thoroughly," Gailey said. "I hope everyone involved is pleased with the work that has been done."

Mayor Tom Blake said in an e-mail Wednesday that as an employee with the city for 27 years, and as chief negotiator for several contracts, he remembers every time that the City Council had final approval on employee contracts.

"The council gives initial guidance and is kept abreast of the general negotiations in process," he said.

Blake said he thought it was a good practice for the council to have final approval and to "keep tabs on these contracts due to the large amounts of money and benefits that are impacted. It also keeps us well informed on what our employees are doing, what they are making and what sort of changes are taking place during any new contract."

According to Blake and Gailey, the terms of the contract will be made public Friday, Aug. 14, between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. on the city's Web site.

Blake would only say the contract took more than three years to negotiate because it involved reworking salaries and working conditions for library employees.

"This was about more than just adjusting percentages," he said. "It was creating a whole new contract."

He said he believes the contract is a three-year agreement and is retroactive, so employees will receive a pay raise going back two years. The money was already set aside, he said, and is not coming from contingency funds.

The contract also includes adjustments to job descriptions, supervisory roles, the grievance policy and sick leave.

"The next time we look at this contract, we can tweak percentages and make small adjustments," he said. "But the first time, there is a lot to discuss and negotiate."

He said the next step will be to set long- and short-term goals for the recently established Library Facilities Committee, a 13-member group comprised of members of the council, Friends of the Library, the community, and library and city staff. The third step will be to develop a new and functional Library Advisory Board Ordinance. The current ordinance has not been updated since the 1960s, Blake said.

"We can have a vibrant community library in South Portland," he said. "We are well on our way."

The City Council is scheduled to meet Monday at 7 p.m. in City Hall Council Chambers. The meeting will be aired on Channel 2.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net.