Library custodians upset over outsourcing of jobs

Queens Library custodian Robert Lorenzo hands out fliers asking library patrons to support union workers. Photo by Rich Bockmann
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Custodial workers are accusing the Queens Library of playing dirty when it comes to outsourcing union jobs to low-paid contract workers.

Custodians with DC37 Local 1321, who are working without a contract, said they have lost more than 50 members from their ranks since the library instituted a hiring freeze in 2008.

Meanwhile, the institution has been paying hourly workers to fill in the gaps in service.

“It may be cost-effective for them, but the quality of work is less,” Robert Lorenzo, a union custodian with 15 years on the job, said as he passed out fliers outside the central library in downtown Jamaica last week.

The union said that since 2011 the library has given more than $300,000 in raises to its non-union staff, including a $20,000 raise to President and CEO Tom Galante.

In a statement, the library said it is operating with $20 million less in city and state funding since 2008.

“Custodial staff is now down 20 percent since the hiring freeze began in 2008, with the same number of libraries to maintain. It has become increasingly difficult for our existing custodians to adequately maintain our buildings,” the statement read.

In July, the library increased the number of branches being cleaned by contractors from seven to eight.

“By utilizing contract cleaners to supplement our full-time custodial work force, we are able to keep our libraries clean and well-maintained to the level that our customers and our employees deserve,” the library’s statement continued.

City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who sits on the Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations Committee, wrote a letter to Galante in late July opposing the move.

“Sadly, such union-busting techniques seemed to have been used since 2011 as an increasing number of union positions have been filled by non-union workers,” the letter said. “I ask that the Queens Library immediately revisit its decision and stop de-unionizing jobs held by the people you are supposed to serve.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Posted 12:00 am, September 2, 2013
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