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Library’s ‘marathon’ is over

To the Editor:

Thank goodness. The long negotiation "marathon" is over. There are new labor contracts between the Grosse Pointe Public Library Board and librarians and support staff.

Marathon seems to be a fitting characterization since early in the negotiation process library board president John Bruce characterized the process as two "teams" meeting in a kind of "game."

At the time I failed to see that anything as serious as the future salary and benefits of any body of workers should be compared to a game. As time went on and this game continued, I decided the metaphors of team and game were quite apt. So here is my game analysis:

I have come to picture the two sides as team/public-staff and team/board. Team/public-staff consists of the obvious first string: the staff members. They are backed by those who rode the bench, that is, anyone who attended and/or spoke at a library or school board meeting, wrote a letter to the Grosse Pointe News, carried a picket sign, honked a horn while driving past the picketers, offered a quiet word of support to a staff member while checking out materials, or wore one of those "disruptive" little campaign style buttons. It's a very deep bench!

In my mind's eye I have pictured team/board in a variety of uniforms. Sometimes as a middle school basketball team; you know the type, scrawny, all bony arms and legs, all frantically chewing gum as they "sit the bench." There they sit at the board room table as though the coach told them to "Sit up straight! Hands folded in your laps! Don't even shuffle your feet unless the coach swats you on the fanny and puts you in the game!" This is how I've seen them at board meetings, asking few if any questions; offering few if any comments beyond a soft-spoken "I support" or "Aye" when called upon.

But sometimes I picture team/board as a football team. Big, brawny, arrogant football players. The type of players that strut their way into the end zone and chest butt their teammates after an especially vicious tackle. They are arrogant. What else can you call it when people with some pretty simple straightforward questions for team/board are told to use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process to receive an answer?

And then there's that arrogant team/board "play" that will be talked about whenever fans of this negotiation game gather. You know the play I mean — the library board's gift of $1,800 to the Grosse Pointe Woods Fireworks Display Committee. Money donated by residents in good faith that it would be used to advance the mission of the library. Now that's arrogance with a capital "A."

Lastly, I've pictured team/board as a team of tennis players — petulant, whining to umpires and line judges a la John McEnroe. Team/board whined to the federal court that the staff had the audacity to wear campaign buttons announcing to an unsuspecting public, "third year without a contract." The board sniveled, declaring this wearing of buttons to be disruptive activity in the library and actually made a federal case out of it — over buttons. I would hope that the judge would have laughed this play out of court the way the tennis world dismissed Mr. McEnroe's antics.

I do find it ironic that in Draper Hill's perceptive cartoon in the Sept. 23 issue of the Grosse Pointe News, Mr. Bruce is shown wearing a campaign button calling for "Silence, Dammit!"

The contract will soon be signed, sealed and delivered and the game will be over. Since it's only a game, there must be a winner, right? Well, I'm here to declare the winner.

In your interview with Mr. Bruce, "Library unions ratify contracts; board yet to approve" (Grosse Pointe News, Sept. 23), he stated, "We look forward to once again operating as a great team to provide Grosse Pointe library patrons with quality service." Now, right there, that's where team/board lost the game. With those words "Once again…providing quality service…" team/board lost it because the "quality service" never stopped or diminished in any way during the negotiations.

It was team/board that stopped serving the needs of the patrons and staff. Game, set and match to the public and staff. Team/board, hit the showers.

Suzanne Steiger

Grosse Pointe Park

Suzanne Steiger
Grosse Pointe Park
September 29, 2004

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