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Labor Militancy in the Libraries


As I’ve stated on a few occasions now, there is a tremendous amount of anger and thus organizing in workers who labor in performatively liberal spaces. I’m going to try and expound upon this somewhere in more detail, if I can find the time, which…..Well, anyway, it’s hard to imagine a place more performatively liberal than the library, the repository of books that scare conservatives and a place that attracts a certain kind of worker. But whether in university libraries or public libraries, these workers are treated very badly. Libraries are always at the top of any budget cuts. Provosts hate libraries because they take up space with those pesky books and don’t make money or bring in grants. Conservatives hate libraries because someone might read and learn things that don’t fit contemporary Republican policy preferences. Not surprisingly then, librarians are fighting back. At the University of Washington right now, where faculty did not choose to unionize a few years back when they had the chance, the librarians are trying to do it themselves without the other lame faculty. And now, librarians in Missouri, not exactly our most pro-union state, are attempting to unionize as well.

At 62 years old, Mary Kate Protzman knows how to use her voice. She started working at libraries when she was 24 and is now one of over 80 library workers pushing for Missouri’s first librarians’ union.

Since she began working with Daniel Boone Regional Library over two decades ago, Protzman has learned her way around collective bargaining and communicating her needs to the administration. Now, she’s hoping to use those skills to help get the union over the finish line.

In order to fully unionize, DBRL must voluntarily recognize the union, or employees have to win a union election to prove a majority of workers support the idea.

In early February, a group of workers announced its intentions to unionize under the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which is the largest trade union of public employees in the U.S.

If the union, Daniel Boone Regional Library Workers United, wins election or is recognized, it will be the first librarians’ union in the state. Tensions at board meetings, in the media and at the library have pushed union advocates to file for an election as DBRL has not recognized the group.

The library has acknowledged the series of events as outlined below but declined to comment beyond the following statement:“We recognize that staff have the right to unionize, and we feel that it is important that all staff have the opportunity to vote on the issue,” said Margaret Conroy, Daniel Boone Regional Library executive director.

The proximate issues are poor wages and the library administration destroying the retirement plan. But the bigger issues, as they often are these days, are that workers are sick and tired of being treated like crap by administration that, especially in industries such as libraries, assumes (and just tells) the workers should be happy to be employed at all and thus don’t deserve things like living wages and retirement plans. Librarians are also not the type to be pushed around. Whatever you want to say about a stereotype of a meek, nerdy librarian, these are highly educated workers and there’s little reason for them to take this crap. So they aren’t. And with other highly educated workplaces organizing, it’s natural they would feel more empowered to take this step.

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