University Library Budget Problems Result in Loss of Librarian Positions – Update of May 16, 2011 [3/4]

In February of this year, in the midst of bargaining for our first collective agreement, MUALA was informed by the University that it had “experienced a significant change in its financial circumstances, which now necessitates certain cost reductions within the bargaining unit.” MUALA reluctantly signed a “Voluntary Departure Program” agreement in which members who have attained the ‘Rule of 80’ (age + years of service = 80 or more) were offered an early retirement package. As of May 1, five librarians have accepted the package and have retired.

The agreement also stated that if “the Program results in insufficient cost reductions the Parties agree that they will meet to negotiate the terms of further reduction initiatives.” We were advised by the University administration on May 4 that the “cost reductions” had fallen short of the target by over $80,000. Shortly thereafter, one of our members announced her resignation in order to accept a position at another institution. Her departure means that the University’s target has been sufficiently met, so no further reductions are necessary.

These developments mark the second time in his short tenure at McMaster University that University Librarian Jeffrey Trzeciak has overseen the reduction of librarian positions as a means of dealing with budget problems. Just two years ago, the University Librarian announced a voluntary separation package that resulted in the departure of two librarians, as well as other library staff. Shortly thereafter, he announced that two other librarian positions were declared ‘redundant’. To our knowledge, these 2009 layoffs marked the first time in recent years that a University Library in Ontario implemented librarian layoffs as a means of dealing with budget problems. (Meanwhile, the Faculty of Health Sciences Library here at McMaster—which does not report to the University Librarian—has had balanced budgets without layoffs during the same period).

While MUALA members are relieved that the recent resignation of one of our members has eliminated the possibility of other layoffs a mere two years later, we are dismayed at the departure of 6 of our librarian colleagues, reducing the number of academic librarians at McMaster University Library to 12, with 7 at the Faculty of Health Sciences Library. These 19 librarians serve a University population of 21,173 full-time undergraduate students and 3,025 full-time graduate students (2009-2010), as well as 894 fulltime instructional faculty members—1,434 including clinical faculty (numbers taken from McMaster University website).