Sunday, May 2, 2010

"Tough Love" Update #5 Protect Staff

I thought "Tough Love" Update #4 would be the last in this series about a serious disconnect between top management and the staff at a certain library system. Surely the overwhelming response to the blog and outpouring of comments would result in some kind of positive action. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Almost 200 visitors and 2,000 page views later - all I hear is silence from the board, business as usual from the administration, and more painful stories from targeted employees. It is a challenge not to be weary and disheartened.

It has been eight weeks since I first contacted a trusted member of the library board of trustees to see if something could be done about the toxic atmosphere at the library. From the beginning, I stressed the urgency of the situation and the need to offer a safe method for members of the staff and former staff to share their concerns. Almost two months later, there is little sign of any action. While I realize the board is made up of dedicated volunteers who have other pressing responsibilities, each day of delay further erodes trust.

The situation surrounding the revision of the staff manual is a good example of management behavior that has eroded trust:

  • Although it has been more than two years since the administration determined the need for a complete revision of the staff manual, they now assert there were only a few minor, quickly executed changes. This statement is incorrect. Some of the MAJOR revisions include an elimination of the grievance process, a change in the probationary period from 6 to 12 months, and an undefined criteria of "excellence" for the performance of all staff. One attorney even suggested the new manual now makes the library an "at will" employer which is a substantial change from the former "good cause" policy for dismissal.
  • There was no plan for staff input into the manual revision process until after a meeting between the board of trustees and the administration. A staff committee, chaired by the HR Director (a person many staff distrust), has now been established and the administration admits the manual needs "fine tuning" which will take place AFTER the staff training. One has to wonder if there will then be a need for more staff training.
  • Only after the union threatened to file a grievance, did management set up a labor/management meeting regarding the changes in the staff manual that were not in compliance with the union contract. At that meeting the union posed a lot of probing questions, but management had few answers. Participants are not convinced there will be any change.

Despite the fact that these examples display a certain lack of competency on the part of the administration, it is the denial of a staff relations problem and the continued harassment of targeted employees that is the biggest concern. All staff members even those with performance issues, are entitled to fair and compassionate employment practices AND those who have spoken up about abuse must be protected from reprisals.

PROTECT THE LIBRARY STAFF and I will happily go back to writing on this blog about matters of little consequence to anyone except a few of my friends and family.


  1. As one of the "disappeareds" its wonderful to see a conversation at last regarding the ethics and lack of honest communication from this generation of the library administration. As one who was given no notice, nor good reason for being severed from the library, time has not healed. Wounds caused by untruths, chaos, fear, misdirection, and turncoats don't really heal. I'm not talking about me - I'm talking about those left behind who DO live in fear of losing their jobs too.

    I also wonder most about the henchmen and women that assist and support the hurt that's been forced undercover for many years. Do they feel guilt? Do they also feel the fear? What about their own sense of honor? Please continue to speak out, to ask questions and insist on honesty and trust from your administration as well as your colleagues. The future of a great library system depends on it.

    And thanks to Dottie for providing a safe harbor.

  2. Dottie Mae, thank you so much for continuing to keep this line open, if only for a little longer. You're right that there's only so much you can do from a distance, but what you have done so far is ENORMOUS. Even if your contact on the Board does not take action, the rest of us will have had a forum--and will have heard from each other in a way we are not able to at work. This could give us the courage we need to unite and take action.

    It really is telling that none of the Board or admin were willing to respond to your blog in an identifiable way--as in, "I am a Board member, and this is how I see it," or "I work in the Admin office, and this is what I think." Ideally, the Director would have responded from her library e-mail address. But then, if she were willing to communicate openly and engage in good-faith dialog, we wouldn't be having these problems.

    I love the doing of my job and the people I work with. I love what the library means to the community. I believe the administration also cares about the mission of the library and its ability to fulfill that mission--they just have a funny way of showing it when it comes to treatment of the people actually doing the work for the public (not to mention the use of taxpayer dollars to abuse personnel).

    I will try to keep focusing on the positives as my motivator to make things better in this library district, and not be discouraged by how painful it is to work for people who show so little good faith. Thanks again SO MUCH for opening your blog for this discussion.

  3. Question to readers: would it be useful for those who have experienced punishing and unnecessary treatment at the hand of administration to talk about specifics here?
    I keep thinking "if they only knew...."

  4. Wow, we're getting an Employee Relations Specialist. Wonder if this person will be as trustworthy as the last one we had? I wouldn't trust anyone this Administration hired. It's waaay too late for that. As far as I'm concerned, it's just for appearance. And how much will THIS cost the library?

  5. For what it's worth, the new Employee Relations Specialist position does not represent a new or additional expense. The administrative office was reorganized, and the person who was our payroll expert is now Employee Relations Specialist, while another person already in the admin office has added payroll to her other duties.

    The nature of the Employee Relations Specialist (ERS) role has not been adequately explained--for instance, it wasn't until the Library Board's letter today that we learned that this ERS is now our means of contacting the Board confidentially (although, if we want any action to be taken, we apparently have to go on the record--really? do you think we're safe to do that?? when the administration has not even acknowledged their use of administrative leaves and forcing out of staff, much less apologized, much less expressed any intent to reform?).

    The next time we hear about the ERS, one can predict based on past experience with this administration that it will be a different story yet again--ditto the staff manual review committee, and the intentions for staff manual training. In the Supervisors meeting on April 1, the Director said that we would reschedule staff manual training (despite a request from a branch manager not to further disrupt staff and branch schedules) in order to form the review committee and introduce the members of the committee to staff. No such introduction has occurred, nor is this any longer the story about why staff manual training is in limbo. *Now* we know it's because the review committee has too much work to do--since staff weren't consulted in the rewriting of the manual in the first place, and we didn't let them get away with it. So staff manual training--and the re-scrambling of individual and departmental schedules--is canceled *again*. Thank you so *very* much for your "support" for staff. Not to mention public service--the reason the library is here!

    I hate that so much of my energy is taken up by my distress over the staff manual and these administrative leaves, and the pervasive fear of informers and reprisals. I *want* all my energies to go into giving the best library service possible, and supporting my colleagues in doing the same.

    Thanks to everyone who has not let them get away with it!

  6. Answer to Anonymous question re: talking about specifics: Yes, I think it would be very useful for those of us who have experienced these things firsthand to share our stories, and get some feedback. I am one who has been "disappeared", too.

    Is this the right forum?

    Do we want to stop being anonymous?

    For most of us, telling the details of our experience will reveal who we are even without names or departments/branches being given.

    Thanks once again to Dottie Mae for letting us get this far here on Seeds of Creativity.