Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Library Scabs

If your local Friends group loves your library so much, then why are they getting your librarians fired? Or forcing them to work at much lower salaries.

Library volunteers are scabs, not because they break picket lines, but because they'll do a job for free that should be done by a paid employee.

Not all volunteers are bad. Look at Wikipedia. But then, if the Wikipedia volunteers don't show up on Tuesday, it's not like you can't find the entry for Lutynia. If the library volunteer doesn't show, that hilarious DVD of Failure to Launch doesn't make it back on the shelf.

Library jobs are some of the most vulnerable public sector jobs in the country. Why? Because it's considered normal that we allow volunteers to perform so many of the library jobs.

People come in right off the street and we let them into the staff areas and let them use library computers that can access user personal information, and all we ask is if they can come in on Saturdays.

We don't do background checks on volunteers, then we let them work around children, regardless of whether this kindly old grampa was known as The Playground Killer back in the 1950's.

Oh, we love our library volunteers, you say now. But wait until your library decides to turn its money over to a private company, then see how you feel when those same volunteers are doing your job and you're applying for a part-time position at Home Depot.

Think of any other job where they allow volunteers to do the work... is it skilled labor? Maybe volunteers built your 1977 Chrysler Cordoba, but hell, we didn't even wear seatbelts in the Seventies, and children could buy cigarettes, so clearly we didn't give a shit.

People volunteer at the hospital delivering flowers. My mom volunteers at the hospital. Which is run by a large corporation whose goal is to make a profit. And she provides free labor when some other person could perform that job for at least minimum wage.

One simple strategy with privatization is to cut library hours. Then wait for the outrage. And then ask for volunteers to work to keep the library open regular hours. Easy.

So you cut staff. You reduce full-time positions to part-time. You reduce salaries. And then exploit the good name of the public library to convince people to work for free.

Who the fuck do you think you are?

Yes, you can fool lots of old people into volunteering. They don't know any better. But let WalMart try that.

The library could do this themselves; they don't need a private company to pull this scam.

Look at this job ad: "Library Systems & Services, LLC (LSSI) has an opening for a Part-Time, 30 hrs/wk, Friends and Volunteer Services Coordinator located in the Santa Clarita..." Your volunteers are cutting off your tits! Your hours are cut so you can become a Lagerf├╝hrer.

According to this NYT story, "the volunteers are still showing up — even if their assistance is now aiding a private company. ...Jim Ceragioli, a board member of the Friends of Shasta County Library,... says, 'We volunteer more than ever now.'"


Would you volunteer to work for free at Target? You might, but AARP or some other senior protection group would sue and get you an hourly wage. But somehow this is okay at the RUN FOR PROFIT library. Yes, you volunteer when the library is a public entity because you feel like you're helping the community, but how the fuck can it be legal to solicit free labor when the company is private and for profit?

That same NYT article says, "Officials would not discuss the company’s profitability." HOW THE FUCK LEGAL IS THAT? We have to report every fucking dime we spend now. It's taxpayer money. It's called transparency. But suddenly, when you sign a contract with a private library management firm, the public no longer has a right to know where their money goes?

And this is not like some contract to purchase automobiles where I say we need transparency with the company selling the cars, this is because, like many local governments, ours collects library taxes as its own line on the tax bill. Just like for schools. Your tax bill says, Public Schools: $1000, Libraries: $50. So this money now goes directly into a private company that has no accountability back to the taxpayer.

But getting back to the volunteers. How the fuck can a company claim that using volunteers is part of it's business model? Does McDonalds go to your local city council and say, "We want to open 25 restaurants and provide no jobs, but use volunteers to manage them"? And your local council says, "Fuck, yeah! Volunteers pay the bills around here! No salaries, no taxes, no disposable income to spend on goods and services!!!"

The first thing these private companies ask is, "What can we get away with? Will people work for free?" Yes. If the choice is no library or work for free, many people will choose to work for free to keep the library running. But how fucking legal is that? And not even how legal, but how stupid!

Imagine any other company trying to get away with that. "It is the determination of an independent consultant that the position you currently hold will become an unpaid position starting tomorrow. You may continue in this position an an unpaid volunteer. And you will be beaten with sticks." How much shit do you think you'd be stealing when you opened that letter? How big of a fire would you start in your cubicle?

When the Parks department gets their budget cut, they don't run it on volunteers. Why not? Because some grandma would drive a lawn mower over a child. Or half the kids would drown in the pool because the volunteer had to be as her granddaughter's birthday party. So why not? Because some shit is too dangerous to rely on volunteers.

But also because these privatization pimps rely on the good name of the public library to get all this slave labor. The library has spent, in many cases, 20-50-100 years building these community relationships, and then some private company swoops in and takes all that goodwill shoves it right up the librarians collective ass by eliminating professional positions and using more paraprofessionals and volunteers to boost their profit.

But the saddest thing is that most people would never notice the loss of librarians. All they want is their new books or movies and they don't care who gets it for them. We could be grinding up baby seals in the back and using the blood to power the computers and they wouldn't make a peep. "Baby seals, you say? Whatever works. Is my copy of the new Danielle Steel in?"

I wish this was something we could complain to the Department of Labor about so they could document the amount of unpaid workers, elderly men and women, Hispanics, African-Americans, all bending and lifting for hours without compensation or benefits. Oh, wait, it is, and calling 1-866-487-9243 could help.

So the next time some smiling senior citizen comes into your library asking about volunteering to read to children, I expect you to scream right in her face, "You would steal food from the mouths of my children? Get the hell out, you fucking scab! Now, somebody grind up some more of those baby seals and get this line moving."

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