AFSCME New Jersey workers with the Camden County Library were finally able to ratify a contract recently after more than a year of job actions and community outreach.
Julie Tozer, president of Local 1454, says members started holding rallies in April 2017 that lasted throughout much of that summer. Additionally, she and other members attended every freeholder meeting for an entire year to demand that the library workers get a fair contract.
“Being really public about our value was so important, doing community outreach to educate folks on what the library really does,” said Tozer. “We also handed out the phone numbers of elected officials and management and asked folks to reach out to tell them how much they love and need the services of the library.”
But what really turned it around for Local 1454 was unity, Tozer says.
“We worked really closely with our co-workers in CWA [Communications Workers of America]. We represent librarians and related titles, and CWA represents paraprofessionals and support staff. This round of contract negotiations was the first time we really started working with CWA and I think it made a huge difference to be out there, together and unified,” she says.
Libraries across the country have become about more than just lending books. A library is one of the last truly public spaces, where you can go to get out of the elements or meet with people without the expectation of buying something. Many libraries also offer English as a Second Language classes, social services, job seeker services and literacy classes, just to name a few.
“It’s about being the best library we can be,” says Tozer. “A healthy workplace is the way to attract the best staff. We want to be a great resource and we need to have the best staff to do that. We need to be able to attract new workers.”
“We’re already at minimum staffing levels and are stretched so thin,” she explains. “We’re doing a lot, we love our jobs, we’re excited about our jobs, but we’re also really tired. We try to balance the needs of the public with the needs of our workers.”
Local 1454 just settled on a 4-year contract, however, most of that is retroactive and library employees in Camden County will be looking to ratify another contract in December 2019.
“The last contract took almost 6 years to get done, this one took 28 months,” Tozer said. “We didn’t lose anything, so we’re hoping to take this momentum into the next cycle. We’re really committed to working with our other union brothers and sisters from the start during this next round of negotiations.”
AFSCME represents more than 25,000 librarians in New Jersey and across the country.