November 17, 2023

Niles library employees win first contract

Employees of the Niles-Maine District Library have their first union contract, and along with it, significant wage increases and—for the first time—paid parental leave.

AFSCME members at the library voted unanimously to ratify the agreement. On Nov. 15, the library board approved it as well, on a 7-0 vote.

Under the agreement, employees with at least one year of service will see their wages go up at least 5% to as much as 34% immediately, and up at least 12.5% to as much as 46.5% over three years, with the largest increases going to the lowest-paid employees.

In addition to laying out costs for health care, ensuring predictable schedules, and establishing a grievance procedure, the contract also creates the library’s first-ever paid parental leave benefit.

“People who are fairly paid feel respected and can just focus on serving the community. That will make it much easier to hire and keep people,” said Todd Miller, a digital services librarian and a member of the bargaining committee. “It’s been a long time coming, but it has all been worth it. The whole bargaining unit is excited to enter a new day for the library.”

The first contract is the latest in a string of victories for Niles library employees, who formed their union in June 2021 in response to a hostile takeover of the elected board by individuals who aimed to undermine library programs and services.

Workers gained support from allied groups such as The Niles Coalition, among elected officials, and from the community at large.

They took action to stop the worst of the board’s threatened budget cuts, weathered a two-year hiring freeze and the loss of a beloved library director, and earlier this year mobilized to retake a majority on the board for candidates who value library services.

Now they’ve won a union contract that will improve employee pay, benefits and rights at work—all of which will in turn make the library better able to serve the public.

“I think of a library as a three-legged stool, with patrons, administration and staff. Without a union, the staff side can be wobbly. With our union, it’ll make the library stronger as a whole,” said Cate Levinson, a youth services librarian who served on the union’s bargaining committee. “With fairer wages and better treatment, the library workers that our community knows and trusts are more likely to stay here.”

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