A part of the military-industrial complex was invited by the Berkeley Public Library to call on the City Council last week, with favorable references provided by library head Donna Corbeil and Terry Powell of the Board of Library Trustees (BOLT)—and despite the best efforts of the Peace and Justice Commission (which voted 7-1 against granting the waiver of the Nuclear Free Berkeley Act, with two abstentions) plus some two dozen members of the public, the majority of councilmembers said: “Make yourself at home, at least for awhile.”
As a result, the library may now sign a contract with 3M Company to service the radio frequency identification (RFID) checkout system that it purchased from Checkpoint Systems in 2004. Checkpoint turned over to 3M exclusive rights to service and sell its systems early last year.
The NFBA is intended to prevent city contracts being given to companies that do “work for nuclear weapons”—and 3M has refused to sign a standard city form verifying that it does not, and will not for the life of the contract, do “work for nuclear weapons.”
The council’s 6-2 vote Jan. 28, with one abstention, granting a two-year waiver, was a compromise.
The library did not get the unrestricted waiver it had sought, while the no-waiver advocates didn’t get the unrestricted denial of the request.
In the process, many important facts came out, including information about the poor performance of the library’s RFID checkout system, and the nature of the 3M Company’s business, which includes weapons contracts with the Defense Department—and the fact that that 3M does not provide equal partner benefits for its employees.
“No one wants to do business with this company,” said Councilmember Linda Maio, referring to 3M Company. But she offered the compromise motion to approve a two-year waiver so that, she said, the Library would have time to find alternatives to doing business with 3M.
Council Members Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin voted against the waiver, while Max Anderson abstained. Voting in favor were Mayor Bates and Councilmembers Linda Maio, Darryl Moore, Laurie Capitelli, Susan Wengraf, and Gordon Wozniak.
Ying Lee, a current member of BOLT, who cast the lone BOLT vote against granting the waiver, said RFID “is a very faulty system.”
Retired Librarian Andrea Segall, who worked the last half of her 33 years as a librarian at Berkeley Public Library (BPL), said the information the library had presented in making its case was not accurate, greatly overstating the time and cost that a conversion to bar code technology would require.
Former BPL worker Roya Arasteh, who, with Segall, co-authored a letter to the city council, stated the library could easily convert to bar code technology, without closing the library, and that it would save expenses of at least $112,000 annually.
Arasteh’s and Segall’s joint letter said that a Library letter to the Peace and Justice Commission Dec. 5, 2008 “cites 18-24 months needed [for conversion to bar codes], plus an increased need for staff (item 5A). [However,] When the entire Central library was automated (including barcodes), it was only closed for 2 weeks!”
Their letter went on to say, “The current system is not state-of-the art, but rather an expensive boondoggle that other libraries have rejected.”
A Jan. 27 library letter to the City Council and sent over the city manager’s signature, described 3M Company’s many lines of business—without once mentioning its military work. The library made 3M sound like bunnies and daisies, all about handy and harmless Scotch Tape and Post-Its.
But a search of USAspending.gov, self-described as a government website that is “required by the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (Transparency Act)” shows that for the year cited in the library letter, 2007, 3M had more than $34 million in government contracts, and the top five contracts, by dollar amount, were with defense-related agencies as follows:
Defense Logistics Agency, $8.9 million.
Defense Commissary Agency, 6.4 million.
Navy, 4.7 million.
Veterans Affairs Department, 3.3 million.
Army, 2.9 million.
3M Company’s Department of Defense contracts in 2007 included the following:
“Automatic Data Processing Equipment;” also “Automatic data processing equipment” for Department of Homeland Security.
“Missile Procurement, Army” (“Chemicals and chemical products”), $80,667, $64,800.
“Missile Procurement, Air Force” (“Guided missiles”).
“Weapons Procurement, Navy” (“Chemicals and chemical products”).
“Weapons Procurement, Navy” (“Fiber optics materials, components, and accessories”).
“Weapons Procurement, Navy” (“Electrical and electronic equipment components”).
“Weapons Procurement, Navy” (“Nonmetallic fabricated materials”).
“Procurement of Ammunition” for Army, Navy and Marine Corps, (“Aircraft components and accessories,” “Automatic data processing equipment”), five contracts.
“Procurement of Weapons and Tracked Combat Vehicles, Army.”
“Military Construction,” Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, Army National Guard; at least six contracts.
And is this company all bunnies and daisies in other ways? No.
There is something else that ought to give the library, and the City Council pause: 3M does not provide equal partner benefits for the partners of its employees. This is another City of Berkeley standard requirement for its contractors.
Here is what 3M Company wrote to the library in an e-mail sent Nov. 20, 2008, which we recently obtained through a public records request:
“This is the information I [the contact person at 3M] received:
“3M provides same-sex domestic partner benefits, but it does not offer exactly the same benefits to same sex domestic partners of employees that it offers to spouses of its employees.
“Examples of this is we do provide same for medical and dental and new employee retirement. However we have a defined pension plan that employees that [sic] may be on that does not offer this, Also some of our retiree health benefits and family leave.
“If you need a more defined answer I can get that for you by Monday.”
Surprisingly, the library’s response to this memo, which was sent the same day, did not ask for any more details. It said:
“Thanks very much for the below. I think I don’t need more detail; however, if I’m asked for more I’ll get back to you.”
Berkeley has an Equal Benefits Ordinance, but it can be waived if the contractor is a sole source provider.
So, 3M Company will be coming to maintain the library’s checkout system in a split decision. We can expect this issue to come back all over again some time before the maintenance contracts reach the end of their maximum two-year duration. Stay tuned.
Peter Warfield is executive director of Library Users Association.