Like many cities during the Great Recession, Cleveland was facing budget cuts that threatened services and jobs at its public libraries. Instead of accepting layoffs, Cleveland Public Library’s (CPL) management and its union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) District 1199, came up with a creative solution of transferring employees to other branches, which allowed all of the staff to keep their jobs. By working together to best utilize the library’s limited financial resources, the CPL and the union’s flexible system of transfers, along with furloughs and wage freezes, meant that libraries across Cleveland kept their doors open.
Debbie Hajzak, a CPL assistant and executive board member of SEIU District 1199, notes, “We did what we had to do to regroup and ride out the worst of the situation without layoffs.” Cindy Lombardo, deputy director at CPL, explains that, “It was about providing job security for everybody. That was really positive.”
CPL and the union were also able to jointly address rising health-care costs by switching health-care plans and designing a health and wellness program that would reduce the price of premiums. Establishing the wellness program and changing benefit providers is estimated to have saved CPL $500,000 in health-care costs between 2010 and 2012, which would not have been possible without the collaborative efforts of both parties.
Both the employees and management acknowledge that they share the same goals in providing the community with accessible services and resources, which have become even more in demand since the recession. Hajzak notes, “Because we worked together, we avoided drastic cuts to our services. People out of work need computer access and information about how to go back to school.”
Lombardo explains that ultimately, the concerns of the patrons are most important, “As two sides of the coin, labor and management, all of us have a vested interest in the long-term stability of CPL…[We should ask] what is best for the people we serve? Not what is best for management or labor. None of us would be here if it wasn’t for the residents of Cleveland.”
Learn more about how labor-management partnerships are saving time, money and jobs in our new report, Improving Government Through Labor-Management Collaboration and Employee Ingenuity.
Alyssa Tufano is the Spring 2014 Policy Research Intern for Jobs With Justice.