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Virginia library workers push back on Sunday reopening, demand chance to provide input

Arlington Central Library. Photo credit: Wikimedia.
By Charlotte Malerich, AFSCME Virginia ·

When Arlington Public Libraries (APL) management decided to resume Sunday hours at some branches, members of AFSCME Virginia swung into action.

The decision to reopen on a limited basis beginning Sept. 12 was made with no union input. After members spoke up and pushed back, management backed off and pushed the Sunday hours to Oct. 31.

The initial announcement was poorly communicated. Some staff were notified while others were kept in the dark. Library employees were immediately concerned. AFSCME's Member Action Team surveyed affected staff for their feedback and recommendations.

The overwhelming majority of respondents agreed that management did not consider staff input, nor was the decision communicated in a clear and timely manner. Staff also thought that management was unprepared to implement the plan for Sunday hours. 

A delegation of AFSCME library employees met with APL administration to voice workers’ concerns. This action prompted the APL to call a town hall on Sept. 1 to hear from staff.

At the town hall, AFSCME APL members shared the survey results. Workers spoke up about burnout and the pressure they feel when they must take leave knowing there isn’t enough staff to cover for them. Others noted that the decision was not communicated to all staff, and that many did not have child care or time to prepare for the Sept. 12 Sunday reopening.

Workers also pointed out multiple times that management had not adequately addressed understaffing across APL. A Washington Post article in July outlined many of the library staffing issues in Arlington County. 

APL managers said they would reevaluate the Sunday reopening plan and table it until late October. Administration also promised they would include employee input as they proceed.

This is an example of the union difference. Worker leaders had a strong plan and were able to pressure management, reminding them they cannot make decisions without employee input. This was only possible by coming together and showing collective power. Whether it be a petition, survey, or rally, workers' actions do matter. In the words of Frederick Douglass, if there is no struggle, there is no progress.

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