The Library Picket Scandal: Robin Stettnisch Tells Her Story

Stettnisch+protesting+in+front+of+the+Scarsdale+Public+Library+with+her+flyer.+

Stettnisch, Maroon Staff

Stettnisch protesting in front of the Scarsdale Public Library with her flyer.

Alicia Xin and Grace Cheng

In 2017, the Scarsdale Public Library announced it would be closing for a $21,000,000 renovation. Yet while millions of dollars were lavishly spent on the library’s expansion, long-term employees received harrowing news. Shortly after the renovation announcement, the Scarsdale Library Director revealed that all part-time workers would be fired and that there would be no guarantee of a job once the library reopened. If an employee were lucky enough to be rehired, they would be forced to start back at an entry-level salary. Robin Stettnisch, an employee of more than 25 years, chose to stand up for herself and what she believes is right—and her pleas for reconsideration fell on deaf ears. Last October, Stettnisch began to picket in front of the library. 

Stettnisch started working at the Scarsdale Library when she was just 23 years old and continued to work full-time for 11 years as a librarian before she made the hard decision to go part-time so that she could take care of her first child. By the time of the renovation, her eldest son was preparing to go to college, and her salary was more important than ever. A salary reset would be devastating for the family’s finances. “Each year, your salary slowly goes up because there are union raises,” explains Stettnisch. “So, every year counts. It financially devastates my family in the present as well as in the future because retirement earnings are partly based on final average salary.” When a visibly upset Stettnisch met privately with Scarsdale Library Director, Elizabeth Bermel, on December 15, 2017, Bermel told her how highly she thought of Stettnisch and promised she would get her job and salary back. “She gave me her word, so I trusted her. When the renovation was complete, she never followed through on that promise or gave me the professional courtesy of even discussing it with me. She completely ghosted me,” said Stettnisch.

Working at the Scarsdale Library provided Stettnisch with not only a stable income but also a community that she could rely on. Even after switching to part-time, Stettnisch remained close with the other library staffers, which made the situation all the more painful. “The library was like my second family,” remarked Stettnisch. “My wedding shower was given by my friends there. My baby showers too.” Bermel and other library staff were familiar with Stettnisch’s family, who had suffered multiple traumas in the past years on top of the loss of job and salary. Four years ago, Stettnisch’s nephew, Gage Belitto, tragically overdosed in his dorm at Columbia University while his uncle was mere feet away, desperately begging security and the dorm manager to check on him, to no avail. The Stettnisch family is currently trying to get a law passed so that if there is ever a concern for a student’s life, an immediate check must be done. If passed, the law will be called Gage’s Law in honor of their nephew. The Stettnisch family hopes that with this law, lives will be saved. At the beginning of the pandemic, Stettnisch’s brother and Gage’s dad, Eastchester Town Councilman Glenn D. Bellitto, suddenly passed from COVID-19. The family was reeling from a second tragic loss. “The director knew the heartache my family has been through,” said Stettnisch.  

When the library reopened, new people were hired at an entry-level salary and Mrs. Stettnisch never got her job back as promised. This past August, Mrs. Stettnisch contacted the Village Mayor, the entire Village Board, the Library Board, and the Friends of the Library Board, but received no response. Seeing no progress, Stettnisch felt she needed to evoke a response and believed the only way of doing so was a public protest. She started to picket two months after reaching out about her plight and being completely ignored.

Picketing required a lot of courage, especially in a community like Scarsdale, the second wealthiest town in America. “I was nervous and I didn’t know what to expect as I’ve never done anything like this before,” recalled Stettnisch. But the support it garnered has made her time protesting much easier. On her first day of picketing, two high school girls approached and told Stettnisch they respected what she was doing and admired her courage. That small encounter gave her the strength to continue her protest long-term and reaffirmed the impact of her actions. Another encounter Stettnisch had was with a father, who stopped to tell her about his young daughter. He hopes his daughter learns from what Stettnisch is doing and will follow in her footsteps in sticking up for herself and for what’s right by demanding justice in a peaceful, powerful way.  “The positive ripple effect I seem to be having has been so inspiring. I’m so grateful people even stopped to talk to me and take the time to read the flier and offer to help. Even people driving by honk, give me thumbs up, or a little wave. These sound like small things but they really aren’t. They all make a difference–they give me the courage to not give up. Having the backing of the public has been huge,” explained Stettnisch.  

A month after picketing there was still no response from the library. On top of the part-time librarian job she is working at, Stettnisch still has two sons at home and a bedridden mother to care for. Despite her tight schedule, she can picket for up to 7 hours at a time. In November, Stettnisch saw the chance to make things right. A new hire had quit and the library was once again advertising for a librarian, so Stettnisch sent an email to the mayor, Library Board, Friends of the Library Board, and library director, offering that if her job and salary were given back to her, she would end picketing. Stettnisch mentioned her personal tragedies and how she did not want to continue the conflict. She received a terse response from the mayor saying she cannot comment on personnel in response to her lengthy email. Then, the library went on to hire someone new at an entry-level salary. “It’s heartless to continually be ignored,” commented Stettnisch. 

Even her attempts to spread her story through news outlets were met with barriers. The Scarsdale Inquirer eventually published a story in which the library director would neither confirm nor deny meeting privately with Stettnisch and promising her job and salary back. Other Scarsdale sites are reluctant to tell her story. Scarsdale 10583, Scarsdale Hamlethub, and the Scarsdale Daily Voice never responded to Stettnisch’s multiple requests for news coverage, and even her post on Facebook’s Scarsdale Social and Scarsdale Issues were met with significant controversy. “Very soon after my story got posted, the Scarsdale Social administrator sent me a message saying that both current and former Library Board members had contacted her and were opposing my post. The administrator ultimately decided the debate that allowing my post would create was not appropriate for that site and so took it down. The Scarsdale Issues administrator also alerted me that she received ‘pushback’ soon after allowing my post,” said Stettnisch.

There has yet to be any progress with Stettnisch’s case and she says that “the endgame is for me to get my job and salary back as promised as well as payment for all the months I should have been working. When the library director first told the part-timers they all would be fired and revert back to entry-level salaries if rehired, the staff was understandably distraught. We went to the CSEA Union for help and were told, and I quote, ‘What the library is doing to all of you is  sh***y but legal.'” 

And so ultimately the big question is, as Stettnisch puts it: “It may be legal—but is it moral, ethical, or kind?