Nashville Public Library

Nashville Library Employees Push Back (and Win) Against “Open Range” Pay Proposal!

SEIU members including Bryan Jones speak out against the open range expansion being proposed by Metro H.R.

SEIU members including Bryan Jones speak out against the open range expansion being proposed by Metro H.R.

Using staff at Nashville Public Library as a test case, SEIU asked city employees what they thought about Metro’s proposal to expand Open Range (also known as “merit pay”) in their new pay plan proposal.

The answer was a resounding “NO!” among those who would be affected.

In an informal survey conducted by librarian and union bargaining committee member Julie Burns, there were 21 responses and 20 of them were against the Open Range proposal.

In a separate petition drive among those who would be affected by the proposal, the Union got 33 signatures. “I was surprised and pleased that everyone who was asked to sign the petition opposing Open Range did so,” said Bryan Jones, a librarian who helped conduct the petition drive.

At a staff meeting in the Main library branch conducted by HR officials, not one employee spoke in support of Open Range and all comments were in opposition. (Listen to the meeting here).

The Civil Service Commission will continue to debate the entire pay plan proposal and is expected to vote on it in April.

UPDATE (April 12, 2016): Due to the activism and solidarity of library workers and SEIU’s efforts, Metro has removed the librarians from the open range expansion in their pay plan proposal! The plan which passed the Civil Service Commission leaves all librarians in the traditional stepped pay plan.

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Member Spotlight: Exie Harrington

Exie Harrington: Circulation Assistant for Nashville Public Library.

Exie Harrington: Circulation Assistant for Nashville Public Library.

Exie Harrington may work at a library, but when it comes to union activism, she sure knows how to make some noise!

Exie, a circulation assistant at one of Nashville’s 20 branch libraries, joined SEIU back in 2012 and immediately tried to get more involved to build her union. Whether it was attending meetings or signing up her co-workers, Exie flew the union flag every day on the job—even though her worksite was not a particular “trouble spot” with a lot of employee grievances or issues.

It wasn’t long though, before Exie was directly affected by a new directive from the State of Tennessee. Governor Haslam issued new “navigator rules” as political retaliation against the Affordable Care Act which could have fined library employees, as well as healthcare workers, pastors, volunteers, and other public employees for assisting people who were trying to access information about the ACA. “In theory, if someone came to my library and asked where they could sign up for Obamacare, and I pointed them to information online, I could have gotten a fine,” Exie explained. “We show patrons every day how to sign up for housing and other public assistance and we have never had problems, but when it came to Obamacare… well, lets just say that there were some people who wanted to see it fail and they were willing to bully people to make it happen.” Exie was a co-plaintiff in a complaint made in Federal court against the state in a case known as “Harrington v. Haslam” and ultimately, the Governor’s office was forced to settle with plaintiffs in what was clearly a politically-motivated overreach and Haslam’s new navigator rules were suspended. The case set a national precedent that cleared the way in other states to prevent right-wing governors from blocking access to a lawful federal program.

For her courage, Exie was nominated for and won the 2014 Intellectual Freedom Award from the Tennessee Library Association—an award that salutes leaders in free speech and intellectual freedom. “This was a highlight of my career, but the real honor was making sure that people who need affordable healthcare can get it without interference from immoral legislators.”

Exie also serves as Assistant Chief Steward for the union’s Metro Government chapter and she’s an alternate on the local’s Executive Board.

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A Tale of Two Libraries: Local 205 Members Take Action!

Some Local 205 members working for Nashville Public Library.

Some Local 205 members working for Nashville Public Library.

SEIU Local 205 members working in public libraries in Nashville and Chattanooga have been organizing to ensure fairness and economic security for them and their co-workers over the last year and have achieved no small amount of success by standing together.

SEIU members working in the Main library in downtown Nashville – who pay over $100/month to park where they work – have been campaigning for nearly a year to address their transportation issues. Union members launched a petition drive and a lobbying campaign of the library director, the board, and city officials. We are happy to report that a free shuttle for employees has been added along with more frequent trips for staff reporting in at different times. “This is a great first step to addressing the parking situation in the main branch,” says Bridget Radford, a shop steward. “The new option has been popular for many staff and we hope to eventually make sure that everyone who wishes to drive to work at the Main library can afford to so.”

Meanwhile, parking reform was also a goal for SEIU members working in the Chattanooga downtown library. Like Nashville, employees had to pay excessive parking fees to park in the lot that their workplace sits on. After workers there passed around a petition with dozens of signatures, SEIU reps raised the issue with city officials and the Mayor’s office. Starting in April, workers now are able to park for free at City Hall only a few blocks away. “Inclement weather presents a challenge sometimes, but I would much rather walk a couple of blocks and save some of my hard-earned money in high parking fees,” says Robert Hart who works in the downtown library.

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Federal Judge Blocks TN’s “Emergency Rules” Regulating the Affordable Care Act

Only days after SEIU Local 205 and two of its members filed a lawsuit in Federal court and held a press conference, a federal judge blocked the state of Tennessee from enforcing part of the “emergency rules” regulating the actions of people seeking to sign up the uninsured for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The state’s new rules could have fined individuals $1,000 per occurrence for basic assistance in learning about and signing up for the Affordable Care Act by classifying them as a “navigator,” even though navigators are clearly defined in the ACA’s federal regulations.

“This is a victory for free speech and the rule of law,” said Exie Harrington, a Nashville Public Library employee who is one of the plaintiffs in Harrington vs. Haslam. “Now I can assist patrons and make sure they are able to find the resources they need to make their own healthcare decisions without fear of being fined.”

“These ‘emergency rules’ were never about protecting people from fraud, this was a political game by the Governor and his allies,” said Doug Collier, President of SEIU Local 205, one of the plaintiffs in the complaint. “We believe it is every American’s right to have access to affordable health care and we are not going to let him play political games with people’s lives.”

The lawsuit alleges that the state’s “emergency rules”:

  • Violate federal and state constitutional rights to free speech and freedom of association because they curtail First Amendment rights due to the threat of being subjected to considerable fines and penalties;
  • Are not valid because family members, friends, neighbors or healthcare workers are not “navigators” as defined by the law;
  • Would prevent people like nurses, doctors or homecare workers like the plaintiffs from assisting people with disabilities without undergoing the state’s onerous registration process, and therefore violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The temporary restraining order will be in place for 14 days. The plaintiffs will seek to extend the court’s order by asking for a preliminary injunction to ensure that non-navigators are not penalized for providing assistance to friends, family members, and neighbors, to name a few.

For more information on this story, get coverage from The Tennessean.

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Union Member’s Story Featured in ‘The Tennessean’

Brian Hull, director of the Nashville Public Library's renowned puppet program, Wishing Chair Productions, arranges shadow puppets backstage before a performance at the library. Photo by Steven S. Harman / The Tennessean.

Brian Hull, director of the Nashville Public Library’s renowned puppet program, Wishing Chair Productions, arranges shadow puppets backstage before a performance at the library. Photo by Steven S. Harman / The Tennessean.

SEIU member Brian Hull is featured in a fantastic story by The Tennessean.

Brian is the director of the Nashville Public Library’s Wishing Horse Productions program, which has been called “the top puppetry program of any library in the United States” by the man who created marionettes for the film “Being John Malkovich”.

Congratulations to Brian and his team at the Nashville Public Library!

 

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For Nashville puppeteer, pretty much everything he did led up to dream job

Written by
Tony Gonzalez | The Tennessean
Aug. 1, 2013

He’d already done the puppet show a dozen times to big crowds and rave reviews, but Brian Hull paused a few moments before a recent performance to tinker with one little detail.

The toy train — it had to roll onstage at exactly the right moment.

“It just didn’t feel right,” he said.

A slight change — a difference of a couple seconds — would make for a bigger surprise for the audience, Hull thought. So he made the change.

Whether anyone noticed, well, that’s hard to say.

But getting those little things right is what Hull is all about. And it’s why his job as the director of the Nashville Public Library’s renowned puppet program, Wishing Chair Productions, is just about the perfect place for him to be.

He’d been preparing for this moment in this place for most of his life — without knowing it — by working in animation, theater, songwriting, dance, sculpture and painting.

“He can sing, he can dance, he’s a great artist — a Renaissance man,” said Barbi Bailey-Smith, a regular at the library’s puppet shows. “What I love is, he’s still here. A lot of times, with people with talent like that, they start here (and leave). But it’s like his home.”

Those tools come together in the art of puppetry. But he didn’t know it when he first applied to take the director position for the library’s puppet program in 1997. He had just finished performing a children’s show as a character he called “the Professor” at Opryland theme park.

“When I was doing the Professor at the park I thought, ‘Boy, it would be great if I had a place where I could do this where kids could see it for free.’ It really seemed impossible,” Hull said. “But it’s not impossible, because that’s exactly what it is here. This really is the job — what I do here at the library.”

It has been 16 years since the guy who could do a bit of everything found the job that required it.

“It’s outrageous,” Hull said. “It overwhelms me if I think about it too much — Holy smokes! How did I get here?”

An unexpected turn

Hull can dream up imaginary lands, characters and storylines, but for his own life he hadn’t planned on puppetry. He was interested in cartoon animation. “I just thought that’s what I would do, because it’s all I did, was sit and draw — draw, draw, draw, draw draw draw draw draw draw draw draw — day and night.”

He also counts Ernie Kovacs, an experimental TV actor from the 1950s, among influences for his daring use of camera tricks and animation.

“He tried things that people weren’t trying. He was fearless. It was sort of a no-apologies style of performing. And his attitude was an inspiration,” Hull said. “It’s the same thing with our puppet shows. This is what we do and you don’t have to come in — but people do.”

There’s a bit of Charlie Chaplin in the mix, too, but not for his big on-screen antics. Hull appreciates how Chaplin could handle every aspect of production.

Hull got his first taste of that as the Professor at Opryland, where he “became the one in charge of my own show, starring me,” he said, laughing.

“I am very thankful to Opryland for allowing me to fail, because in the beginning, it was a disaster.”

His challenge, he said, was learning to hold an audience of children while roller coasters, water rides and trains whizzed past.

By the time Hull landed at the library, he’d performed in at least 50 professional theater shows and was flirting with a major TV deal for an animated show of his own.

The library gig would be temporary, he thought. He really wanted to finish the animated show — about a band of bugs trying to make it big in the music industry — and this was way before “A Bug’s Life.”

But he soon found animation and puppetry to be “sister” art forms.

“Because puppetry is animation done in real time,” he said.

And the animated thing? That fell through. But to see Hull’s most recent production — “String City,” a telling of the musical history of Nashville — is to see his range of talents without seeing a whole lot of Hull, who stays mostly backstage above the puppet strings.

The show includes animations on a screen, hand-painted scenery, shadow puppets, delicate marionettes, visual puns and short movies. (“String City” ended its first run at the library and is scheduled to return in late October at the Country Music Hall of Fame.)

One collaborator on “String City,” Phillip Huber — perhaps the nation’s most well-known marionette maker for his work on the film “Being John Malkovich” — called Hull’s work “a cut above” typical puppet shows.

“He has a very rich background in the theatrical arts, which is essential to this art form,” Huber said. “As far as I’m aware of, this is the top puppetry program of any library in the United States. Most of the credit for that strength belongs to Brian.”

Puppetry, Huber said, isn’t particularly lucrative, but “pays you with dividends of the heart.”

Not slowing down

Hull has clearly made it big in that respect, leading a life that’s about as glamorous as it gets for a puppeteer.

And he has seen too much inspiring art to slow down now.

“When I see things that are great, I think, ‘I wish I could do that. I wish I had done that,’ ” he said.

Now, he feels as if he has been given the chance to so something great.

“It is being handed right to you,” he said.

He can feel when he has done things right through the tiny handshakes and fist bumps that kids rush to give him after a show — or before it even begins.

Standing outside the theater doors last week before the performance, Hull saluted a dad he knew, then offered a high-five to a little blond-haired boy. Almost everyone walking through the door knew him.

Standing nearby, library employee Jackie Sims shook his head and smiled.

“He’s the man,” Sims said.

Hull leaned over.

“Well, you know,” he said, lowering his voice for comic effect, “I do the puppet show at the library.”

 

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SEIU Members @ Downtown Library Campaign for Parking Relief!

Because of a complicated arrangement between Metro Government and several private entities, Nashville Public Library employees who work in the Main branch have to pay nearly $1300 a year to park at the building they work in. No other employees working for NPL face this expense.

The issue of parking in the Main branch was brought to NPL Library Director Kent Oliver by the Union as soon as he arrived in Nashville and he was immediately supportive. Mr. Oliver included employee parking in his budget memo to the Finance Dept. prior to the Mayor’s budget hearings in March.

During that budget hearing, NPL board member Margaret Ann Robinson spoke in favor of parking relief and several SEIU members in the Main branch wrote her a letter of thanks for her advocacy.

A Campaign Committee of SEIU members in the Main branch began a petition drive to get free or reduced parking, gathering signatures from 99% of the library staff in Main.

The petitions were presented at the May board meeting by Union members and the Board agreed to support efforts to give parking relief. In June, Mr. Oliver delivered the petitions to the Mayor’s Office and the Department of Finance.

Union members brought the issue of parking relief to the attention of the Metro Council at several lobbying events organized by SEIU and questions were asked by Metro Council members at the library department’s budget hearing in May. Unfortunately, parking relief was not addressed in the final budget that was passed by the Metro Council.

The Campaign Committee is investigating other options and welcomes input from employees on how best to proceed. A special thanks goes out to the Parking Campaign Committee members Bryan Jones, James McClanahan, Bridget Radford, Julie Burns, and James Staub for all the hard work they have done and to all NPL employees who have signed the petition and have lent us their support.

Stay tuned to www.seiu205.org for updates…

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VICTORY! Nashville Library Worker Awarded $8K in Out-of-Class Pay!

An SEIU member, with assistance from the Local, won over $8,ooo for working out-of-class at the Nashville Public Library.

The member, who wished to remain anonymous, thanked SEIU representatives for ensuring that public employees are paid appropriately for the work they do in delivering quality services.

 

 

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Andrea Blackman Receives Leadership Award!

Members_AndreaBlackman

Congratulations to SEIU member Andrea Blackman for winning this year’s Edwina Hefner Award from the Nashville Symphony.

Andrea’s accomplishments were recently highlighted in an article by The Tennessean, which also covered the great work done by the rest of the Special Collections team, including the Civil Rights Room and the 2010 Flood Project. Our congrats to Andrea and all involved!

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SEIU Members Stand Up for Free Speech During “Banned Books Week”

Bryan Jones

Bryan Jones

James McClanahan

James McClanahan

SEIU member and librarian Bryan Jones produced Tennessee’s entry for the American Library Association’s “50 State Salute to Banned Books” while Teen Program Coordinator and SEIU member James McClanahan had an entry in the TLA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee contest.

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the value of free and open access to information.

Congratulations to Bryan, James, and the other SEIU members working at the Nashville Public Library for their advocacy of free speech.

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