Patrons, politicians and the library’s front-line unionized workers are outraged over revelations about the high pay and perks of President and CEO Thomas Galante.
Galante is paid about $400,000, and he spent $140,000 for office renovations, including a private second-story outside lounge at the central library where he enjoys smoking cigars.
The revelations are a public relations disaster for the library system.
Queens Public Library has downsized its staff and struggled with budget reductions for years, screaming poverty while appealing to patrons to pressure politicians to restore cut funds.
Each year, members of Local 1321 Queens Library Guild faithfully participate in a vigorous fight-back campaign as they face the trauma of possibly losing their livelihood possible layoffs and deal with less resources to serve patrons. With public disclosure about management fat, they now feel betrayed.
“We worry about our jobs and the cuts every year,” said a librarian, who requested anonymity. “How are we supposed to go to the public for support when information like this comes out?”
Galante found himself hit with stinging criticism in February after an expose by Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez sparked a City Council hearing and led New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer to announce his plan to audit the library system.
New York State Sen. Tony Avella demanded Galante’s resignation after Gonzalez reported in a subsequent article that the tone-deaf library head earned $287,000 over 22 months as a consultant for a Long Island school district, according to an audit by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. At the City Council hearing, Galante waffled when questioned about outside income.
“We are deeply disturbed by this excessive spending and compensation,” said John Hyslop, president of Local 1321 Queens Library Guild Local 1321, a local in the municipal employees union District Council 37, an affiliate of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “This has done a tremendous damage to the reputation of the library.”
A clerical worker said staffers were long aware of Galante’s high pay and perks before the news reports–and that knowledge tempered their outrage somewhat. What angers workers, she said, is that the controversy has hurt the library’s reputation. Disillusioned by their frozen pay and a constant worry about funding, employees are anxious to be treated fairly and want the system to be funded properly, she said.
New York City has three public library systems. The other two are Brooklyn Public Library and New York Public Library, which serves Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island.
Over the past five years, Galante reduced the library staff by nearly 130 positions—and that included 44 layoffs.
In addition, Galante contracted out custodian jobs; cut the pay of many workers by imposing a new work schedule that reduced their nighttime differential; employed new administrators, and handed out big pay raises to managers.
Meanwhile, branch libraries dealt with frozen book budgets, and Local 1321 members have gone four years without a raise.
Local 1321 has responded to the controversy by stepping up its on-going fight-back campaign. The local is demanding:
·an end to the contracting out of custodian services,
· the rehiring hiring of let-go employees,
· additional staffing, and
· greater support for library services.
Hyslop created an on-line petition addressed to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz on Move.On.org that asks Queens Library to hire additional full-time staff, including the 44 laid-off Local 1321 members and new custodians and librarians.
The petition, which is at http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/queens-library-needs?source=c.emcop&r_by=999542, also calls for Queens Library to cancel its contract with the Busy Bee, which employs the contracted custodians.
Responding to Galante’s appearance at the Feb. 5 City Council hearing, Hyslop also wrote the Queens City Council delegation to express the union local’s concerns.
At the City Council hearing, Galante testified that in-house custodians are paid $35 an hour, though their hourly pay, including benefits, actually ranges from $21.17 to $26.25. By using contracted custodians—who don’t receive benefits and are paid between $14.95 to $15.75—the local says the library is embracing the low-wage, anti-union employment model that is eroding the living standards of workers throughout the country.
In his letter to the Queens delegation, Hyslop noted that he received a letter from a donor who decided to stop contributing to the library after reading about Galante’s public relations debacle. Hyslop criticized the library’s plan to waste money on an administrative office that will eliminate space now used by the public.
Gonzalez’s expose detailed Galante’s generous compensation package and his questionable spending of library funds.
Galante drives a $37,000 luxury Nissan 370Z provided by the library. His salary jumped to $391,594 after he received a $12,000 raise. The 250-square-foot rooftop deck attached to his office– which includes two dozen evergreens and wrought-iron furniture–cost $27,000. He also spent $110,000 for two new executive conference rooms.
The reports on management fat by themselves are an embarrassment. But Galante also faces criticism because he made the expenditures before completing the renovations of branch libraries devastated by Hurricane Sandy.
At the City Council hearing, Galante justified his salary, saying it was comparable to what the heads of non-profit organizations earn. Gonzalez pointed out that Galante earns more than the mayor ($225,000), the schools chancellor ($220,000) and the MTA chair ($350,000).
At the hearing, Public Advocate Letitia James said Galante’s salary should be in line with the library heads of the Chicago and Los Angeles library systems. They earn around $200,000.
City Council member Elizabeth Crowley said Galante’s salary should be in line with that of city commissioners.
“It seems that your management is getting compensated more and more, but I don’t think that’s fair to the taxpayers,” she said. “Your compensation package is way too large. You make twice as much as the mayor.”
Galante also cited the pressure of his children’s college expenses as a justification for his salary. That outraged City Council members and library staffers. They, of course, also cope with college tuition and mortgages or rents—but they earn lower salaries.
City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer, who chairs the Cultural Affairs, Libraries & International Intergroup Relations Committee and used to work at Queens Public Library, pressed Galante to agree to stop contracting out custodian work.
Galante said that he would like to keep the work in-house, but he would only agree to do that when the library’s fiscal health stabilizes. The in-house custodian staff has dropped from 72 to 105, according to Galante.
When he announced his audit of Queens Public Library, Comptroller Stringer said it would examine executive pay, capital improvements and the use of city tax dollars. The library keeps its private funds and public monies in separate funding streams, according to Galante.
“Taxpayers deserve to know that public money is spent appropriately,” Stringer said on WCBS 880. His office will also audit the city’s two other library systems.
“My auditors will assess whether the spending practices of our library systems follow rules and business practices that ensure that taxpayer money goes to where it’s supposed to go. We want our libraries to maximize the value of the public funds they receive.”
Stung by the disclosure of his management excesses and a backlash to hurtful remarks about custodians, Galante felt compelled to issue a public apology to library employees.
“I want to apologize for comments that I made recently that were insensitive,” he said.
“I am deeply appreciative and proud of the work done by the hard-working employees of Queens Library at all levels of the organization and especially our custodial team who keep our libraries safe, clean and running smoothly day after day. They do a great job serving thousands of people every day.”
Gregory N. Heires is senior associate editor at Public Employee Press, the official publication of District Council 37, which represents 120,000 municipal workers and 50,000 retirees in New York City. He blogs at The New Crossroads, where this post originally appeared.