Camden County librarians, who have been working without a contract for nearly a year, have asked a state mediator to grant fact-finding in negotiations with the county.
The primary issues are salaries and health-care benefits.
The Camden County Library's AFSCME Local 1454, which has about 45 members, is more than 93 percent female. It represents librarians and other professionals.
The county library system has branches in Atco, Bellmawr, Camden, Gloucester Township, Haddon Township, Merchantville, and Voorhees, and at Rutgers-Camden.
The librarians contend they are underpaid compared with their counterparts in the region. They also say other county employees, with less education, are paid more and get more vacation time.
"We are looking for parity with those other units," said local president Julie Tozer, a librarian at the Nilsa Cruz-Perez Downtown Branch in Camden City. "We just don't command the salaries of similarly educated men in similar units."
Dan Keashen, a county spokesman, disputed the union's claims and said the county planned "to negotiate in good faith with the collective bargaining unit, and not through the media."
"Nevertheless, the salaries and the contract that is being worked on is equal to or provides better pay than surrounding county library contracts, and that is the ultimate barometer in fairness, not other agencies with individuals that work in other fields," he said.
After two sessions with a state mediator failed to yield progress, the union and the county want to move forward with seeking fact-finding. A response from the mediator is pending.
The union declared the negotiations at an impasse after an initial meeting with the mediator. No new talks have been scheduled.
"They are sticking to their original proposal and will not offer us a counter," Tozer said.
Fact-finding is not binding. A fact-finder reviews the proposals and recommends a solution. Tozer said the union may seek binding arbitration if no progress is made soon. A three-person panel - one selected by each side and a third by both sides - would review proposals and outline a contract.
The librarians' last contract expired Dec. 31, 2015, and had a no-strike clause that bars a walkout. It took nearly six years to reach that agreement.
"We certainly hope that any contract our librarians enter into is done in a timely manner," said Pat Tumulty, executive director of the New Jersey Library Association. "We have great concerns when a contract is not settled in a timely fashion."
The association recommends a minimum starting salary of $27.90 an hour, or $50,765 a year, for a librarian, depending on the region. It recommends a minimum salary of $78.30 an hour, or $142,500 annually, for a director, the highest position in the library structure.
In Camden County, an entry-level librarian makes $22.99 an hour, or roughly $41,841 annually, under the current contract, Tozer said.
In Burlington County, the salary for an entry-level librarian is $44,579 annually; in Gloucester County, it is $44,153.
Under state civil-service requirements, librarians must have master's degrees.
In Camden County, a clerk in another unit without an advanced degree is paid $23 an hour, according to Tozer.
The county librarians perform a host of tasks, such as teaching technology and literacy classes and helping job-seekers polish their resumés and conduct employment searches.
Another union represents paraprofessionals and support staff.
Tozer estimates that about half the members of the librarians' union are household heads.
Tozer said union members plan to continue to show up regularly at freeholder meetings to express their frustration and bring public awareness. Informational picketing may be added, she said.