November 02, 2023

Newberry Library employees win first contract

More than 60 employees of the Newberry Library—who formed their union, Newberry Workers United/AFSCME, one year ago—have overwhelmingly voted to ratify their first union contract.

The Newberry is an independent research library that opened in 1887. Newberry Workers United/AFSCME represents more than 60 employees including conservators, librarians, library assistants, program coordinators and program assistants, among others.

The four-year agreement includes a 15% increase in pay and ratification bonus while freezing employee costs for health care. It also doubles parental leave, provides bilingual pay and more.

They also fought for—and won—funding so that workers can continue their education. Under their new union contract, employees are eligible for reimbursement of up to $1,000 in education costs for anyone who wants to go back to school or get new certifications.

Just as important, the contract will ensure fair and consistent treatment of every employee, greater transparency, and a voice on the job for workers. Workers have won a grievance procedure and quarterly labor-management meetings where they can voice their concerns about workplace policy. No longer can management make unilateral changes without employee input.

“Before, there were so many times when management wouldn’t hear us, but with our union, they had to sit down and listen,” said Cheryl Wegner, a cataloging librarian who served on the union bargaining committee. “Together we can make really positive change in the long run, because employees who are well-paid and well-treated are satisfied and committed to doing a good job.”

Dylan Bingham, a program coordinator who also served on the bargaining committee, agrees.

“I see the union as the step we need to take to build a sustainable and trusting relationship between employees and the institution,” she said. “I see it as us making sure they invest in us as much as we invest in them.”

Bingham says she was inspired by the wave of organizing that washed over major commercial employers like Amazon and Starbucks, but also those forming their unions locally with some of their fellow cultural workers, like those at the Art Institute of Chicago.

“It was all really exciting,” Bingham said. “I felt really lucky that I was able to be part of this greater movement that’s been happening in Chicago and across the country. I was committed to the union and wanted to help in any way that I could.”

Moving forward, they say their new union contract will help create a better environment for workers and patrons alike.

“I think it will be a lot better for the institution. This could be a really positive change in the long run,” Wegner said. “Well-paid employees are satisfied employees who are trying to do a job. Employees who are not overworked can do a good job.”

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