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Library workers in Oak Lawn, Illinois, are newest AFSCME members

Photo credit: AFSCME Council 31
By AFSCME Council 31 ·

Oak Lawn Public Library employees have formed a union through AFSCME Council 31. The nearly 80 librarians, library assistants, library associates and pages voted to form their union and filed their petition with the Illinois Labor Relations Board in October.

They join more than 3,000 other Illinois AFSCME members who work in libraries.

One of the main reasons they wanted to unionize was to improve safety for themselves and library patrons during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There were a lot of problems we couldn’t fix ourselves,” Eric Guzman, a library assistant, told the Chicago Tribune. “Everything felt like we weren’t being heard. One of the ways we thought we could get heard is through the union.”

The workers felt a heightened sense of urgency after a security officer died in April after being sickened with COVID-19 but management didn’t tell other staff to quarantine or get tested.

Soon after the employees filed for their union, management announced budget cuts. But at the same time, “they are wasting precious library resources fighting our legal right to union representation,” employees said in an online petition that urged community members to call on the library board to stop cuts to the library and legal roadblocks to union representation.

“We are nine months into a global pandemic and there are so many people struggling and in need of community services,” the petition states. “This is the absolute wrong time to be taking resources away from those who need it most to fight our legal right to have a real voice on the job.”

“I love this library,” Guzman said. “We serve the public. [Having a union] will help us provide better service.” 

The effort to empower Oak Lawn library workers is part of a broader national campaign to bring employees at museums, libraries, zoos, planetariums and other cultural institutions into the AFSCME fold.

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 to sign a petition to protect museum workers from furloughs and layoffs, visit www.culturalworkersunited.org/take-action/.

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