Sunday, July 12, 2015

Corruption at Queens Library - Statement from Union President

A report has been released by the New York City Comptroller detailing inappropriate spending by former Queens Borough Public Library president Thomas Galante and other executives. The report notes that while spending was being reduced in many areas of library operations, including replacing unionized custodians with contract workers, Galante and others spent money on alcohol, concert tickets, airplane tickets, and extensive renovations to Galante's office space.

John Hyslop, President of Queens Library Guild, AFSCME Local 1321, has shared the following:

For decades, the Library's Administration manipulated funds.  In the 1990s, under the then Library Director Constance Cook, Newsday began asking questions about the Library’s Fines and Fees fund.  NYC Comptroller Allan Hevesi's office began an audit.  Eventually, they took the Library to court, because the Library refused to give the auditors access to all the Library’s funds.  However, for an undocumented reason Hevesi’s office caved and agreed to a very bizarre settlement that only allowed the Comptroller to audit NYC funded funds.  Many rumors abound as to why he caved.

Constance Cook hired Tom Galante.  Gary Strong, our next director, continued the practice of hiding funds.  He left and Mr. Galante was hired as library director.  By that time, Mr. Galante fostered very strong ties with the Board of Trustees and totally manipulated them.  They convinced themselves that Mr. Galante was the library and without him the library would fall apart.

In 2009, the City started having financial troubles and cut funding to New York City’s three library systems.  Mr. Galante cried poverty and forced the local to give back some benefits by threatening layoffs.  He did fire a bunch of non-union staff.  That was tragic, because most of those people were fired for personal reasons.

In 2010, the city cut the Queens Library's budget by $2.5 million and Mr. Galante told the Local give up a lot more to save your colleagues.  The Local held a vote and an overwhelmingly 75% of the membership voted.  95% of those who voted, voted “no” to give backs.  In September 2010, he laid 44 union members off.  In November 2010, the City cut the Library’s budget $2.5 million and Mr. Galante didn't lay anyone off.  Why not?  The Local asked that question to many people, including the press, but no one picked it up.

From 2011-2013, the Local and the Administration held rallies during NYC's budget process because Mayor Bloomberg kept proposing drastic cuts to NYC's libraries.  Fortunately, the NYC Council ensured those cuts were not enacted. Meanwhile, the Local began questioning the Administration's salaries and bonuses, as seen on www.seethroughny.net.

In the Spring of 2013, HR informed the Local that Mr. Galante decided to contract out custodial services.  We told them, we would take every measure to stop this.  Legally, the Administration has the right to do this.  Therefore, we made it political.  We notified all of Queens' elected officials and many came out in support of us.  We held rallies, with the inflatable rat.  We had good press coverage.  All we got from the Administration was grief and intransigence.

In the 2013 election, Queens elected a new Borough President.

In 2014, the New York Daily News' Juan Gonzalez started asking questions about a deck that Galante had built just outside his office.  That very innocuous question led to a relatively significant change for the Queens Library.  The Borough President was furious and got involved.  NYC Comptroller got involved.  NYS Legislators got involved and passed legislation reforming the Board of Trustees.  NYS Governor and Attorney General got involved.  NYS courts got involved.  Apparently the US Attorney's office and FBI are involved.  

Eventually, the Borough President fired half the Board of Trustees and appointed new ones.  Those trustees gave all the records to the Comptroller and fired Mr. Galante.

With the NYC Comptroller's report, we now know that the Library's Administration manipulated the Library’s finances to show deficits when it had surpluses.  That allowed Mr. Galante to extort money from the city and givebacks from the union.  We now know that Mr. Galante is corrupt and possibly a criminal.  What's so gross is that he lavished raises and bonuses on himself and his executive staff while he laid off union and non-union staff, cut our materials budget and our hours.  That is so hurtful to so many people.

Since he was fired, the Queens Library staff feel better.  We still have issues with staffing levels, salaries, the givebacks.  However, we are happy that the new Trustees and Comptroller now have access to all the Library's finances giving everyone a more accurate understanding of the Library's finances.

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