UC Librarians and the Union: A Historical Perspective


By Bill Whitson

Recently, a few UC librarians have asked, what has the union done for librarians over the years? What do our dues pay for? It's an important question, and deserves to be answered. This is my attempt to provide a broad historical perspective on what the union has and has not been able to achieve.

From the first days of librarians' struggle to win improved status, pay and perquisites back in the 1960's, the union's work has benefited librarians both directly and indirectly.

First, the union has worked to benefit librarians directly. It has been an advocate for a host of changes and benefits, has lobbied the California Legislature, and has provided advice and representation for librarians in meeting and discussing issues with management, in individual grievances, and in collective bargaining.

Second, the union has benefited librarians indirectly, by the potential threat it has always posed for UC administration. Since the administration has always been opposed to allowing unions to represent its employees, it has always been happy to encourage any alternatives to unions in order to undercut their appeal. In our case, the administration was inclined to accept and endorse LAUC when librarians first began to develop it in the late 1960's, because administrators saw LAUC as an alternative and much less threatening framework for allowing librarians a voice in academic governance, including the appointment, promotion and advancement of those in the librarian series. Without the union, LAUC would probably have never been established and approved by the University; without the continuing role of the union, LAUC and peer review could be eliminated or downgraded at any time, at the discretion of campus or UC administrations.

UC unilaterally changed librarians from being staff employees to being academic employees in 1962. For the first several years, there were no actual practical changes made as a consequence of the change of status, but the 1960's were a time of considerable ferment and discussion among librarians across the country. Librarians at UC Berkeley were instrumental in helping to found the faculty AFT local 1474 in 1963. By 1965 nearly one-third of the 175 librarians at UCB were members, and had formed, first, a librarians' caucus within the faculty local, and soon after, in 1967, a separate Librarians' Local (AFT Local 1795). UCB librarians surveyed academic librarians across the country about everything from status, pay and benefit issues to every aspect of library management (reference service policies and practices, collection development, cataloging, etc.) and developed a lengthy set of proposals ("Library Improvement Program") for reforming and improving every aspect of librarian status and library operations.

In 1966 and 1967, one focus of much of the national debate was which of three hypothetical avenues promised the most effective organizing strategy for achieving the gains everyone was advocating: unions, professional associations (i.e., ALA or CLA), or perhaps the model of UC's Academic Senate, which seemed so successful in gaining for Senate faculty almost everything librarians seemed to want. Eldred Smith, President of Local 1795 in 1967, and then, after resigning from the union, the first statewide President of LAUC, in 1968, published an article describing this debate in a 1969 issue of ALA Bulletin, where he also reported on the formation of LAUC.

LAUC was formed in June 1967 at a meeting called during the ALA Conference in San Francisco, by librarians from the union locals at Berkeley and UCLA, and other librarians who were uncomfortable with unions and very taken with the idea of creating our own version of the Academic Senate. From the very beginning, librarians have been divided in their concept of LAUC's role. Some saw it as a complement to the union, carrying out certain activities within the University structure with the support and funding of the University while the union continued to carry out other activities bringing pressure to bear on the University from the outside. Others saw LAUC as an alternative to the union. Upon LAUC's formation, a substantial number of librarians left the union to pursue the LAUC option, while others were active in both. At least one who supported the union option refused to ever participate in LAUC.

The most significant direct benefit brought about by the union was in achieving a public recognition and agreement among the highest levels of UC administration and the State Legislature that librarians suffered from a significant pay inequity. This was due in part to the Local 1795's participation in the Alameda County Central Labor Council strike against the UCB campus on behalf of campus blue collar workers in 1972, when the final settlement agreement recognized the existence of the librarian pay inequity and UC promised to address it. In part it was due to concerted lobbying efforts in 1972-74 with the State Legislature which twice succeeded in getting special monies allocated by the Legislature specifically for librarians' pay increases. The outcome was that, when the three-tier academic rank and pay structure was implemented in 1975, average librarian salaries in the UC system put us at or near the top of the ARL libraries list in terms of salary, for a considerable period during the 1970's and 1980's. This success, along with UC's formal recognition of LAUC in 1975, meant that UC librarians seemed to have achieved much of what they had wanted in the 1960's, even if we hadn't won full faculty status and salaries, sabbaticals, a grievance procedure with compulsory outside arbitration, or quite the same "voice" the Senate Faculty have in areas of "governance."

When we were finally empowered to bargain collectively, and were negotiating our first MOU in 1984, our chief objective was to guarantee continuation of the status quo, including providing a legal framework for LAUC, through a "Tier 2" agreement outside the MOU. Indeed, ever since that time, since most librarians have apparently been relatively satisfied with most terms and conditions of our employment, the union has been more concerned in collective bargaining with protecting what we have than in fighting for significant new benefits. For the most part, we have been relatively successful in this. On the other hand, it may appear that we haven't actually achieved much in the way of new gains over the last 20 years of collective bargaining. One's perspective depends a great deal on one's assessment of the relative strength of the union and the University, and how much one thinks the union might push the University to do anything it doesn't want to do.

The fundamental fact is that, when negotiating with the University, the union has always had a relatively weak position. We represent a small group of employees, not noted for angry militancy. We can't bring the campus to a halt by going out on strike. Our major strength lies in the fact that we have union staff, legal counsel and financial resources we can draw upon when needed. We have the means to raise issues, object, challenge things we think are wrong, and pursue our case in legal and political arenas if need be. Collective bargaining and our MOU guarantee that we have certain legal standing, rights and prerogatives, both as a group and as individual employees. As individuals, we cannot be disciplined or dismissed from our positions without just cause, we can dispute management decisions through a grievance and arbitration process, and we have certain protections from layoffs. Our peer review process is also protected, and the MOU safeguards procedural fairness in reviews for merit and promotion. Local representatives regularly work with individual librarians and with campus administrators to ensure that these collective and individual rights are preserved.

Another strength is our relationship to other unions, both within UC and beyond it. Having a union, and a collective bargaining MOU, gives us many options to challenge, advocate, and bring pressure to bear upon the University administration, if we choose to do so. A lot depends on how strongly librarians feel about a particular issue, and whether we are willing to continue working to defend and build on the gains we've made.


Bill Whitson is a retired UC Berkeley librarian who participated over many years
in the development of both the Berkeley local and LAUC-B. He was a member of the Local 1795 Executive Committee between 1972-1992, co-chaired the legislative lobbying campaign in 1972/73, was President of the Local in 1977/78, 1978/79, 1984/85 and 1985/86, a member of the bargaining team in 1985 and 1992, and Co-chair of the Grievance Committee for 4 years between 1987 and 1992. He was statewide UC-AFT Secretary in 1987/88 and edited the statewide UC-AFT Newsletter in 1993/94. He served as Chair of LAUC-B during two important years, 1974 & 1975, when the LAUC, peer review and salary structures were finalized and approved by UC and UCB administrations, served two three-year terms on CAPA, and wrote the UCB Chapter of the statewide History of LAUC, published in 1993. He also organized both the LAUC and AFT historical archives which are now located in the University Archives in The Bancroft Library. Bill worked as a reference/collection development/instruction librarian in the Moffitt Undergraduate Library from 1970-1993, and as a Social Sciences Librarian in the Doe Library, from 1994-2001. He was most active professionally at the state level, in CCLI, CLA, and CARL., serving as President of CARL in 1995.

Union officers 1963-1996.doc48.5 KB