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Library worker describes why she loves her job and why she’s part of a union

Collage: Alex Kazanas/ AFSCME
Library worker describes why she loves her job and why she’s part of a union
By Elizabet Garcia ·
Library worker describes why she loves her job and why she’s part of a union
Kerry Auld. Photo: Elizabet Garcia/ AFSCME

DENVER – We honor library workers on April 9 — National Library Workers Day — as more and more of them choose to build power through AFSCME.

Our union’s Cultural Workers United campaign has inspired more than 25,000 library workers at 275 public and private libraries to come together. They are fighting for dignity, respect and a voice on the job to advocate for more resources for their communities and better working conditions.

AFSCME President Lee Saunders said library workers are under siege.

“A steady stream of crises — from the opioid epidemic and COVID-19 to extremist book bans and staffing shortages — have put immense pressure on library workers. They are fighting back, using their voice on the job to keep these essential community centers open,” Saunders said in a statement.

Fighting efforts by right-wing lawmakers to restrict children’s access to books are also a continuing challenge for library workers. What motivates many of them is a core belief that they ought to protect everyone’s access to the books they need.

That was certainly the case with Kerry Auld, one of AFSCME’s newest library members. On March 7, Auld was one of 350 Jefferson County Public Library Workers who made Colorado history by becoming the first unit of county workers to organize a union under the state’s new collective bargaining law for county employees. The workers voted overwhelmingly to form a union with AFSCME Council 18.  

Auld, a page at the Columbine Public Library, sat down with AFSCME Now to discuss why she became a library worker and why she is excited to join her co-workers to make their voices heard at work.

Question: Why did you become a library worker?

Answer: When I was teaching in the public school system, I was actually volunteering here. And when I left the public school system, I thought maybe I could get paid for doing what I was volunteering to do. Here I am, 6½ years later.

Q: Describe a day on the job that you are most proud of.

A: The feeling of gratification at work comes from keeping the books in all sections of the library in proper order so that patrons can easily find them, and staff can easily find them as well when they need to. One of the things that makes me most proud to be a library worker is when I found out about the new law that allows us to unionize. I immediately volunteered to help with that because I've had some experiences and things said to me that I think would have been very helpful to have a union behind me.

Q: Why did you personally get involved with organizing a union at your workplace?

A: I enjoy working with my co-workers and personally I think that making minimum wage is ridiculous in this time and climate. We have gotten raises only when the Colorado minimum wage has gone up. JCPL has never given a raise to the employees. Surviving on minimum wage is impossible. I do it because I love the library and I enjoy the job. It keeps me busy. But I think of younger people that want to make a career of the library and they're stuck. They cannot provide for their family. They cannot pay for  an education if they want to continue in library science. You can’t even get a meal at McDonald's pretty much for under $15, which is our wage.

Q: What would be your union’s first priority?

A: Once bargaining begins, I think some of the co-workers' priorities — not only here at Columbine but throughout the entire county — is safety. Things are changing rapidly in the Denver metropolitan area and there have been incidents at almost every library where workers have felt unsafe. Me personally, I had a patron yelling at me last week and it was very scary. The entire library was watching, and I did what we were instructed to do, just turn around and go to the back.

Q: What’s your advice for other county workers across the state who are thinking about coming together to form a union?

A: Don't be afraid. It is easy to sign up. But it's nothing to be scared of, nothing to be ashamed of. And working with the employees of AFSCME has been wonderful. They are incredibly supportive. To have a voice in the workplace I think is especially important. Most of the employees at JCPL are the pages. We don't have any benefits, (are) making minimum wage and we keep the library running. If we were to stop, the library system would come to a halt. So, knowing that my colleagues here at the library signed up everybody but one person just shows how solid we are to support each other and to make JCPL a better place — not only for us but for the community that we serve.

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