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Illinois district library workers decide to form a union through AFSCME

Photo credit: Niles-Maine District Library.
By AFSCME Council 31 ·
Illinois district library workers decide to form a union through AFSCME
Photo credit: Niles-Maine District Library.

Employees of the Niles-Maine District Library in Illinois have decided to form a union through AFSCME Council 31.

Nearly 100 librarians, patron support staff and other library workers will be part of the new union once it is established. They recently filed a majority-interest petition with the local panel of the Illinois Labor Relations Board.

Niles library workers are coming together in the wake of cuts to funding, staff and programs threatened by newly elected members of the library board, who are engulfed in controversy over giving a $100-an-hour contract to a political supporter.

“The staff at the Niles-Maine District Library has spent decades working with different board leadership to maintain a valuable community space and resource. But within just a few weeks, this new board majority has made it obvious that they do not understand the functions of a public library and have no interest in learning them,” librarian Rachel Colias said. “Once we realized we weren’t being offered a seat at the table, we pulled up our own with AFSCME. The people who work here have invested too much in this library to be so easily dismissed, and we hope to work as a union to protect our ability to serve anyone who relies on us.”

A broad coalition of community leaders led by Rep. Jan Schakowsky signed an open letter to the board, supporting the employees and opposing cuts to library services and staff.

“We are proud that the Niles-Maine District Library provides valuable services to our community, and we are dedicated to ensuring that those vital services continue,” the letter said.

The leaders faulted the new board for proposing “cuts to library hours, programs, and outreach services,” “sharply increasing employees' portion of health insurance premiums” and “hiring a videographer with political ties to board members and no experience auditing libraries as a consultant at the rate of $100/hour with no cap.”

In addition to Schakowsky, state and local elected officials and representatives of labor, education and faith groups signed the letter. Among them were AFSCME Local 2953 Village of Niles President Mark Blickhahn and Vice President John Montejo, and AFSCME Local 3891 City of Des Plaines President Erik Heiker and Executive Board member Laura Mendez.

“My co-workers and I have invaluable insight into what we need to do our work effectively. Our organizational knowledge is deep; we know this place and we’ve made our careers here,” librarian Cate Levinson said. “This community loves the library, and they know the people who work here love it, too. I believe the library and the community it serves will benefit from the work we will do together as members of AFSCME.”

AFSCME is the largest union of public-service workers in Illinois and represents thousands of library employees throughout the state.

The effort to empower Niles library workers is part of a broader national campaign to bring employees at museums, libraries, zoos, planetariums and other cultural institutions into the AFSCME fold.

Cultural Workers United (CWU) AFSCME is the first major campaign around cultural workers in the labor movement. Representing over 25,000 library workers in more than 350 public and private libraries, CWU’s goal is to raise the standards for equity and transparency in the cultural sector.

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