Pasadena Library Staff Reads the Bottom Line and Sacrifices Pay Raise


Call it extreme devotion to the duty of supplying readers with books. Pasadena Public Library employees have turned down scheduled pay raises averaging more than $100 a month to reduce the effect of budget cuts on the library system.

With library officials preparing for a systemwide shortening of the business day or cuts in the book budget, 102 of the department's 110 librarians and clerical workers chose last week to forgo raises of 3.5% to 4%, due to take effect next month.

"We love our library," said Glordy Jordan, a librarian's assistant. "We'll support it in any way we can."

The give-back idea arose during manager-worker discussions about prospective budget cuts, say those who participated. Like other cities in Southern California, Pasadena is facing big revenue shortfalls this year--as much as $6 million, finance officials say. City Manager Philip Hawkey has ordered all city department heads to come up with proposed cuts of up to 10% of their budgets.

Jeanne Wright, president of the Pasadena Assn. of Clerical and Technical Employees and a library payroll supervisor, said that workers from other city departments were astonished by the library workers' action.

"To a person they said they wouldn't do this," said Wright, who is participating in the give-back. "It tells you something about how library employees feel about the library and the level of service."

In a series of meetings in December, employees began to question whether it would be fair to accept their upcoming raises, which would have accounted for about one-seventh of the anticipated budget cuts. At a general staff meeting in January, library managers surveyed the staff and found overwhelming support.

"It (the raise) didn't seem right," said Susan Poster, a librarian in the main branch. "People in the community are being asked to make sacrifices, and we're being asked to take back services. At the same time, we were also supposed to give ourselves a raise."

Last month, employees signed confidential statements relinquishing their right to raises.

About 15 library employees spoke fervently about their commitment to the library. "It's no longer somebody else's problem," said Rose Maria Martin, who is in charge of the library's Hispanic services. "It's time for us to do something."

"What I liked was actually participating in the financial future of the library," said Katy Currie, a librarian in the Santa Catalina branch. "We get to show in a visceral way our commitment."

Others spoke of concern for the jobs of employees with lower seniority, although layoffs are no longer being considered.

"It's a way to ensure that fewer people--if possible, no one--get laid off, not just because of economic hardship, but because we have a good team that runs the library," said Bernadette Glover, a librarian at the La Manda Branch.

Although the near-unanimous renunciation of a pay raise is unusual, it is not unprecedented among librarians. Library workers in Baltimore County, Maryland, voted for a similar give-back this year, electing to take 10 unpaid days off rather than to see massive cuts in the system's book budget, said Charles Robinson, the director of the Baltimore Library.

"The reason these people work in libraries is probably because they're committed to public service," said Joey Rodger, executive director of the Public Library Assn., a national organization of librarians and library trustees based in Chicago. As a librarian, Rodger said, "you get to realize the importance of libraries to communities in hard times."

Nonetheless, Pasadena Mayor Jess Hughston said he was "flabbergasted" by the Pasadena workers' sacrifice. "I think it's setting an example for the rest of the city," he said.

To ensure that no library employees would feel pressured to give up their raises, Wright shared the information only with a finance official and a benefits official.

Ultimately, 57 out of 60 clerical workers decided to forgo the raise, as did 45 out of 50 managers and librarians, including library director Ed Szynaka, Wright said.

Clerical workers, whose top pay now ranges from $11.96 to $15.01 an hour, were scheduled to get a 4% raise on April 1 under the terms of a union contract. At the same time, librarians and managers, who earn from $17.47 for an entry level job to $41.78 an hour for the director, were due for an annual salary adjustment of 3.5%.

Some have begun to calculate the long-range effects of relinquishing their pay raises. Currie said she had bought a home in September. "I'm not a person who usually thinks about a cost-of-living raise I'm going to get next month," she said. "But for the first year, I had it in the back of my mind that I'd be getting an extra $100 or so a month. Now I'll just have to make do with what I have."

Martin said she has a large family. "They've usually spent my money before it gets into my pocket," she said.

"It would have paid my car insurance for a year or a month's rent," Wright said. "What it means is that I won't take a vacation this year."

For all their sacrifices, the employees will not be able to spare the library system from service cutbacks. If the library were to lose 10% of its budget, it would have to cut $680,000, Szynaka said. The give-back by the library workers amounts to $110,000.

So the library, whose patrons pour in at a rate of 4,000 a day, must still be prepared to reduce the operating hours of its nine branches and to cut its book budget, which has already been pared by 45%, he said.

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