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Recognizing AFSCME library workers

By AFSCME Staff ·
Tags: Priorities

AFSCME is proud of the work AFSCME library workers do every day in supporting the needs of their communities by creating space to learn, grow and discover new opportunities. Today, on National Library Workers Day, we honor the hard work library workers put forth every day and recognize the challenges they face.

Over the past several years, that work has been threatened by library boards of trustees and administrations setting out to reduce library staff levels, slash budgets and perpetuate discrimination in the workplace. AFSCME library workers have held their library administrations accountable to the community by stepping up to advocate for themselves and their communities when library administrations choose to go down the wrong path.

When the majority of newly-elected board of trustee members openly criticized library services, the library workers at the Niles-Maine District Library in Illinois knew they needed to fight back. The library staff came together and created their union with AFSCME Council 31. Through their collective action, which included petitions, open letters from local leaders and a rally, the new local was able to both win their union and significantly reduce proposed budget cuts to staff and popular community-oriented programming.

At the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library, represented by AFSCME Council 962, library workers who spoke up about their experiences of racism and ableism while working at the Central Library branch were muted last year during a library board meeting. AFSCME made sure their members’ voices were heard and fought for changes to be made throughout the entire library system, starting at the top. After months of action, the library CEO announced she was resigning in response to the calls for change from AFSCME.

The pandemic has spotlighted library workers’ commitment to their communities. At the start of the pandemic, many library workers had to innovate on the fly to serve their communities remotely, like Never Quit Service Award winner Toktam Gholami. Others took on roles far outside their daily responsibilities, like Austin, Texas’ Zach Shlachter, also a Never Quit Service Award Winner.

While AFSCME library workers have shown their flexibility in the face of this unprecedented public health crisis, it has been a reminder of the powerful connections library workers forge with patrons and the inequity they often face as front-line workers.

When Hennepin County, Minnesota, workers returned to their branches, the library CEO moved from Minnesota to Los Angeles, announcing he would permanently manage the 41-branch system from afar. AFSCME Local 2822 stepped up and advocated for their community by emphasizing that in order to best meet the needs of the community, the library CEO should live within the community. In response to the calls from AFSCME, the long-distance CEO stepped down and a local interim director has been put in place at the library.

These library workers were able to come together and fight back against the actions of the board of trustees and library directors by unionizing and fighting collectively. 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.

For more information about CWU and how to form your own union with AFSCME, visit https://www.culturalworkersunited.org/join-us/.

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