Ferguson Library Employees Beat Back Retirement Attack

Pensions and retirement security are under attack across the country. But when the Ferguson Library in Stamford tried to slash benefits during recent contract negotiations, the members of AFSCME Local 1303-317 fought back.

Their solidarity and patience paid off as library management ultimately backed off on the retirement and health care takeaways, and reached a settlement with the 44-member union.

“These were the most difficult negotiations we’ve had in a long time,” Library Assistant II and Local President Carolyn Aucella said, “but we stuck together and maintained our resolve to protect the gains we’ve made over the years."

"This is a win for library workers but also for the patron community we serve every day of the week," Digital Librarian and Local Vice President Rebecca Ferrer added.

During negotiations, the Library sought to reduce retirement benefits by nearly 30% for current employees and eliminate the defined benefit plan altogether for future hires. Their proposals would have cost library workers $5,000-$11,000 annually in retirement earnings. The Library had also proposed to reduce paid time off and increase health insurance premium cost sharing.

Reaching a “win-win” settlement was made more difficult by library management’s decision to hire an outside attorney whose initial proposals sought to destroy many of the gains made by union members over the years.

“We could not depend at all on the good relationships of the past three contracts because the negotiator for the administration was a new and unknown entity more than likely instructed to get as much as possible from us and not give much, if anything, back,” Aucella added.

Council 4 Staff Representative Laurie Webster served as the Local’s advocate throughout the lengthy negotiations process.  Along with Aucella and Ferrer, the Local 1303-317 bargaining team consisted of Youth Services Librarian Amy Laughlin; and Library Clerk Julia Orozco.

Aucella praised Webster and Council 4 for the guidance they provided, including which included a detailed economic analysis of the draconian impact of management’s proposals, as well as public outreach intentionally timed with National Library Week.

“We began with 43 proposals and a complete rewrite of the existing contract,” Aucella said. “Throughout the process Laurie remained civil but focused as we pared everything down to the essentials that should be part of every contract: a living wage, healthcare and pension.”

The new four-year collective bargaining agreement was formally signed in July, after the sides had entered into contract mediation. The contract is retroactive to July 1, 2018 and includes general wage increases of 2.0%, 2.5%, 2.5% and 2.5%, for a total of 9.5% over its duration.

“As library workers, we thrive on helping people with our services. We’re doing more and providing more for the community,” Digital Librarian and Local 1303-317 Vice President Rebecca Ferrer said. “We also want to be respected and valued for our labor, and in the end, that’s the outcome we achieved.” 

The Ferguson Library settlement is a tribute to a determined group of workers. Coming as it did during the UFCW union strike against Stop & Shop, it also demonstrated why unions are important than ever to protecting the middle class. 

“These days people seem to be worried that the powerful are coming for their guns,” Aucella observed. “We should be more concerned that the powerful are reaching out to take away our jobs, our health care and the promise of a comfortable retirement provided by our own money and years of service to the public. That’s why need strong unions like AFSCME.”