Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh workers to hold union vote next week | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh workers to hold union vote next week

click to enlarge Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh workers to hold union vote next week
CP photo: Jared WIckerham
Stacks at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Carrick branch
When people think of workers' rights in Pittsburgh, they often associate the movement with the efforts of the United Steelworkers (USW). But workers' rights movements in the Steel City also include the unionization efforts of fast-food workers, hospital employees, and now, library workers.

The United Library Workers of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh will be holding their union vote on Wed., Aug. 14.

Isabelle Toomey is a children's librarian at the CLP Downtown & Business branch. She says voting to form a union is an opportunity for "real democracy" in the city's library system, as well as a chance to gain dignity and respect in the workplace. She says she is excited to vote in favor of unionizing at CLP.

"As library workers on the front lines and doing the work, we want a real say in shaping library spaces and services to meet our patrons’ needs," says Toomey. "By coming together and getting a seat at the table, all of us can ensure that our concerns are taken seriously, that issues like harassment are properly addressed, and that the things we appreciate about our jobs are protected."
Two weeks ago, the United Library Workers of the CLP filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). They are seeking a collective bargaining agreement that would cover employees across 19 public branches and the library support center.

“Filing authorization cards is an exciting milestone for all of us,” states Rachel Masilamani, a part-time librarian at the Downtown and Business branch, in a press release. “We all love the library, and are ready to work together to make it even better.”

The United Library Workers began discussing unionization last summer, and launched an official campaign with the USW in June in hopes of “gaining a voice when it comes to making decisions that affect the library, the people they serve, and their own working conditions,” according to a USW press release.

“Respectful discussion, protecting one another’s privacy, working towards the greater good, and making well-informed decisions are our core values,” states Masilamani, adding that the filing is a “big step toward making the library a more fair and equitable place.”

While the Teamsters and Service Employees International Union currently represent CLP drivers and environmental service workers, this latest organizing effort would cover the 350 remaining eligible, unrepresented, white-collar staff.

The committee also called on the library administration to respect workers’ right to organize, remain neutral, and refrain from spending public resources on anti-union activity.

Emily Fear, who heads the teen department of the non-CLP affiliated Sewickley Public Library, feels that the efforts of the CLP staffers marks “a huge first step in inspiring better relationships between library staff and management throughout all of Allegheny County’s libraries.”

Fear, whose employer is part of the Allegheny County Library Association, believes that, while organizing presents a lot of hurdles, CLP staffers have an advantage in that, as opposed to county libraries, CLP falls under central management. Fear points out that while organizing one library may seem simpler compared to organizing across an entire system, it actually presents its own distinct set of difficulties, especially in a workplace with a small staff or few full-time staff members.

“You need a certain percentage of buy-in from your fellow staff members,” says Fear. “The less staff you have, the less wiggle room you have when it comes to staff members who do not want to either state an opinion or oppose the organizing effort altogether.”

Though it doesn’t directly affect her own workplace, Fear looks forward to seeing how the CLP’s unionizing efforts play out.

“Time will tell on whether this leads to individual county libraries organizing, or simply bringing about important conversations that result in positive impacts for library staffers and the patrons they serve,” says Fear.