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Nyack Library workers voted Monday night to unionize, making it among the small handful of Rockland County libraries where employees are covered by unions.
During a secret ballot election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board, staffers voted 33 to 7 in favor of establishing a union and affiliating with the New York State United Teachers, a statewide labor union made up of more than a half million healthcare, education and human service workers.
Inside of the library's community room, Steve Berger, a representative of the National Labor Relations Board, counted the paper ballots before a hushed throng of people. The majority of observers were Nyack library employees, but there were few supporters from other local unionized libraries.
As Berger tallied the votes, the silence was so marked, it elicited a joke from an observer about just how quiet the room was to break the tension.
"Well, it's a library," chuckled Matthew Ciuccio,a staffer from New City Library who came out to support the Nyack employees.
Now, Nyack's library board and management must begin negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with workers.
Jennie Chien, a circulation clerk at the library, said, "I think we're feeling good, but a little nervous. It is a good step forward for us, though. We do want to work with management and the board as much as we can because we love the library and we love the patrons here."
After a contract is hammered out - a process that Chien said employees believe could take several months - workers hope for more open lines of communication, to have more knowledge of the library's finances and to receive raises.
"We have had cost of living increases, but have never really had raises here. We've been held back for awhile and we're among the lowest paid libraries in the county now," Chien said.
Library workers had hoped to forego the special election altogether.
Last week, they presented a letter signed by more than 70 percent of staffers urging trustees to voluntarily recognize the newly-formed Nyack Library Staff Association. Workers also requested the board sever ties with Jackson Lewis, a White Plains-based law firm retained by the board last month.
The firm, which offers seminars such as "Remaining Union Free: A Counter-Organizing Simulation," has been called hostile to union organizers' cause.
Chien said employees hope trustees will rethink using Jackson Lewis because "it has caused a lot of tension" by hiring "a very aggressive law firm."
"Having a hostile environment is not conducive and we're respectful of management," she said. "It's not that we did this because we're trying to make trouble. We just need to have more of a voice at the top."
In June, workers organized the Nyack Library Staff Association, which is open to all staff and has about 50 members.They also designated a parent union, the NYSUT.
Shortly after, a petition signed by 80 percent of workers was submitted to the National Labor Relations Board, requested the federal agency conduct a secret ballot election.
Following Monday's vote, Library Director Jane Marino declined to comment.
Marino has previously said she, along with her department heads, believe a union "will negatively impact" the library. Marino explained her comments further to the Journal News last week, saying she feels "the presence of a third party could adversely affect the lines of communication in the library."
Within Rockland County, staffers at a few libraries, including New City and Finklestein Memorial in Spring Valley, are affiliated with unions. In New York City, workers at branches of the New York Public Library are also unionized.
However, less than 20 percent of library workforce across the country is unionized, according to figures available through the Department for Professional Employees, a coalition of nearly two dozen national unions.
Karen Vetrano, who works at New City Library and is president of the New City Library Association, attended Monday's count to show her support for Nyack library workers.
Ever since New City unionized 11 years ago, Vetrano said there's "definitely been an improvement" in the workplace.
"The staff wanted a voice and a say in things. Our jobs take up so much of our lives and you have to get the respect you deserve," said Vetrano.