Salt Lake board takes ‘first step’ toward approving library workers’ union efforts

Sep 6, 2023, 7:30 AM

slc main library...

An aerial view of the Salt Lake City Public Library Main Branch on July 27, 2021. Salt Lake City library workers are one step closer to being the first in the state to unionize following a resolution that library leaders approved last week. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Employees of the Salt Lake City Public Library System say they are “very excited” about the direction unionization efforts are going after the agency’s board of directors voted last week to approve a resolution pledging to work with the union toward a collective bargaining agreement.

Board members approved the resolution unanimously during their meeting on Aug. 28, potentially paving the way for the city’s library system to be the first in the state to unionize.

The resolution recognizes that some library employees are seeking to affiliate with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. It also states that the board is “committed to continuing dialogue” with the union over the matter and that the board will work toward a formal collective bargaining agreement.

It adds that the Salt Lake City Council must approve the final agreement before it goes into effect.

“I am very excited by the library board’s resolution,” said Bryce Hays, a city library employee, in a statement Tuesday. “There’s still a lot of work to be done, but I am feeling optimistic and looking forward to working alongside my colleagues as we navigate the steps that lie ahead.”

The resolution signals the biggest step forward in the process since several librarians announced their desire to unionize in April. Those seeking to unionize said that they wanted a stronger voice over “long-standing issues” tied to their jobs, such as safety concerns, below-average wages and workplace decisions.

About two-thirds of Salt Lake City’s 3,200 full-time employees are represented by three unions, including the American Federation of State, City and Municipal Employees. Library workers represent the largest department of city employees who aren’t under a collective bargaining agreement.

That’s still the case even with the resolution in place. Adam Weinacker, president of the Salt Lake City Public Library System Board of Directors, explained during the Aug. 28 meeting that the resolution doesn’t determine who qualifies to be a part of the union, which must be hashed out in the future.

Employees would still have to vote to ratify their intention to move forward with collective bargaining negotiations and the city library system would likely bring in additional legal counsel to “represent our interest” during future negotiations, he added.

“We’re hopeful that this is kind of that first step that is being requested,” he said.

Jerry Philpot, president of the local American Federation of State, City and Municipal Employees union, said he’s thankful for the “first steps” in the lengthy process. It’s a process that he hopes ends with library workers formally unionizing.

“We are excited to work with (the board) expeditiously to finalize the union recognition process,” he said in a statement Tuesday. “Once that is done, workers will be able to establish a respectful and collaborative relationship with management that will benefit everyone in the library.”

Related: Salt Lake City librarians seek to unionize, solve ‘long-standing issues’ on the job

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Salt Lake board takes ‘first step’ toward approving library workers’ union efforts