Niles-Maine library employees form union with AFSCME
Rep. Schakowsky, other leaders sign letter backing workers, opposing library board’s threatened cuts
Employees of the Niles-Maine District Library are organizing their union with AFSCME Council 31.
Nearly 100 librarians, patron support staff and other library workers will be part of the new union. They filed a majority-interest petition with the local panel of the Illinois Labor Relations Board last week.
Niles library workers are coming together in the wake of cuts to library funding, staff and programs threatened by newly elected members of the library board, who are engulfed in controversy over giving a $100-an-hour no-bid contract to their political supporter, Steven Yasell.
“The staff at the Niles-Maine District Library has spent decades working with different Board leadership to maintain a valuable community space and resource. But within just a few weeks, this new Board majority has made it obvious that they do not understand the functions of a public library and have no interest in learning them,” teen services librarian Rachel Colias said. “Once we realized we weren’t being offered a seat at the table, we pulled up our own with AFSCME. The people who work here have invested too much in this library to be so easily dismissed, and we hope to work as a union to protect our ability to serve anyone who relies on us.”
STRONG SUPPORT FROM COMMUNITY LEADERS
A broad group of community leaders led by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky signed an open letter to the board, supporting the employees and opposing cuts to library services and staff.
“We are proud that the Niles-Maine District Library provides valuable services to our community, and we are dedicated to ensuring that those vital services continue,” the leaders’ letter begins. Unfortunately, the newly elected Library Board’s recent actions appear to place those services in jeopardy”, citing “propos[ed] cuts to library hours, programs, and outreach services”, “sharply increasing employees' portion of health insurance premiums” and “hiring a videographer with political ties to board members and no experience auditing libraries as a consultant at the rate of $100/hour with no cap.”
In addition to Rep. Schakowsky, elected officials signing the letter include:
- State senators Robert Martwick (10th) and Ram Villavalam (8th)
- State representatives Marty Moylan (55th) and Lindsey LaPointe (19th)
- Cook County commissioner Larry Suffredin
- Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner Josina Morita; and
- Niles School Board District 71 president Matthew Holbrook
Community leaders from labor, education and faith groups include:
- The Niles Coalition
- Chicago Federation of Labor president Bob Reiter
- Niles School Board District 71 superintendent John Kosirog
- Arise Chicago executive director Rev. CJ Hawking
- Chicago Jewish Labor Committee regional director Eli Fishman
- AFSCME Local 2953 Village Niles president Mark Blickhahn and vice president John Montejo; and
- AFSCME Local 3891 City of Des Plaines president Erik Heiker and executive board member Laura Mendez
Backing the employees’ choice to form a union, Rep. Schakowsky said, “All workers deserve a voice in the workplace, including the ability to organize. I urge you to respect the fundamental rights of these workers and not to interfere with or delay that process.”
“Our library provides access to every member of our community so they can bridge the digital divide and succeed in the 21st Century. That means not just books and periodicals but computers, printers, internet, video equipment, and most of all the award-winning expert staff,” said Elizabeth Lynch of The Niles Coalition. “When my husband and I chose Niles to raise our family, one of the reasons was the library. Yet immediately upon taking office, the new library trustees began trying to reduce staff and hours, cut funding to programs and outreach, and establish an open-ended contract for their unqualified buddy, all without any input from the staff or the community. The members of the Niles Coalition love our library and will stand with library employees to protect it.”
“My co-workers and I have invaluable insight into what we need to do our work effectively. Our organizational knowledge is deep; we know this place and we’ve made our careers here,” youth services librarian Cate Levinson said. “This community loves the library and they know the people who work here love it too. I believe the library and the community it serves will benefit from the work we will do together as members of AFSCME.”
AFSCME is the largest union of public-service workers in Illinois and represents thousands of library employees throughout the state.