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March 2020

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In Quest for 'Someone to Advocate for Us,'
New Jersey Librarians Turn to the IBEW

Literature lovers in Vineland, N.J., are getting their latest recommendations from IBEW-member librarians, and it's thanks to an unlikely organizing campaign brought on in the wake of the Supreme Court's anti-union Janus decision.

In 2018, Atlantic City, N.J., Local 210 Business Manager Anthony Petito and Financial Secretary Walt Young responded to the Janus decision — which made all public-sector workplaces right-to-work — by meeting with bargaining units across the local's jurisdiction to remind members of the value unions offer them and their families.

Neither expected it to add members, but that's just what happened following a meeting with municipal workers in the southern New Jersey city of Vineland.

Two employees of the city's library were sitting in the back of the room that day, curious about the IBEW and the potential of union representation. About one year later, they and their colleagues had finished off a successful organizing campaign and approved a two-year contract.

"This is actually a case of something positive coming out of a negative situation," Petito said.

Helen Margiotti, head of Children & Young Adult Services at the library and now a chief steward, said the library employees looked into organizing in the past. Nearly all of the city's other municipal employees are represented by Local 210. Margiotti and others thought it strange that library employees weren't.

But that work took on new urgency in 2017, when a private company proposed taking over management. Library employees would see their wages, pension and benefits determined by that company instead of the library's board of trustees.

The company eventually withdrew the offer, but it did serve as a motivating tool for Margiotti and her colleagues.

"At that point, a few of the staff joined together and said, 'I think we need a union,'" she said.

The Court's 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME gave public employees who benefit from a collectively bargained contract the option to opt out of paying dues, overturning 40 years of judicial precedent. Many analysts expected it to devastate public-sector unions financially, but membership has remained stable and even increased in some unions.

Margiotti was aware of that decision, but the reason she attended the 2018 meeting was the opportunity to meet with a Local 210 official.

"What they wanted was a voice," Petito said "They wanted security. They were OK with the status quo, but they wanted protection."

Even before the final vote was taken, Local 210 went to work for affected employees. Five library employees were laid off by the city in early 2019 due to a funding reduction, including four who would have been bargaining unit employees. Local 210 negotiated on their behalf to secure severance pay, Petito said.

The contract that was approved in October 2019 includes grievance and arbitration procedures as well as the new members having increased input into their schedules, which is important because they are expected to work some holidays and weekends. Librarians also saw their work hours increased to 37 ½ per week after they were cut to 30 in recent years.

As evidence that security was more important to them, there are no salary increases, although Local 210 hopes to negotiate that in a future contract. For now, the library employees have the respect they deserve, Petito said. Vineland is a city of 61,000, about an hour's drive west of Atlantic City.

"Local 210 went into negotiations optimistic and it's very clear that the community has an interest in the success of that library," Petito said.

Margiotti said the vote was unanimous in approving the first contract. About 14 employees are members of the bargaining unit, depending on how many part-timers — who also are covered by the contract — are employed.

"No one here has much experience with unions," she said. "We're still in the learning stage. It's nice to have someone in there advocating for us."


Juni Ruiz, a senior assistant, joined with the rest of his colleagues at the Vineland Public Library and accepted representation from Atlantic City, N.J., Local 210. The bargaining unit recently approved a first contract.