August 15, 2022

Newberry Library employees forming union with AFSCME

Employees of the Newberry Library in Chicago are forming a union, the workers’ organizing committee announced today in an open letter to their colleagues. The letter reads in part:

In order to fully embody its values, the Newberry must support and sustain the community that makes [its] work possible: its dedicated staff. That is why we have decided to form our union with AFSCME Council 31. We are proud to join workers at cultural institutions across the country who have organized and inspired us to use our collective power to improve our workplace.

By negotiating a fair contract with management, we will strengthen our institution’s future and further the Newberry's mission to engage critically in a vibrant democratic society. 

Though concerns about wages and workloads are not new, the financial uncertainties of the past few years have brought these issues to a head. Layoffs and furloughs of essential staff, stagnant wages, and a lack of transparent decision-making are not sustainable. 

We believe that all Newberry Library employees deserve:

  • a voice in the decisions that affect us
  • better wages and benefits
  • transparency around compensation and advancement, and equal access to these opportunities regardless of class, disability, gender, or race
  • safe working conditions, reasonable hours, and adequate resources to perform our jobs
  • a workplace free of harassment and microaggression 

Known as Newberry Workers United, the union will represent more than 60 employees including conservators, librarians, library assistants, program coordinators and program assistants, among others. The Newberry is an independent research library that opened in 1887.

“At The Newberry, fostering community and belonging is at the forefront of what we do, and at the heart of that mission are the staff who work tirelessly to make it a reality,” said Salma Geneidy, a member of the Newberry Workers United organizing committee and administrative coordinator for the library’s Research and Education department. “We have chosen to organize because we believe in the core values of The Newberry, but those values can’t exist if we don’t have a voice in the decisions that affect us and proper support from management to further the institution's goals.”

"Our community of Newberry employees is incredible, and I want to organize to ensure that we all have a voice in the decisions that affect us—particularly around wages, resources, and advancement,” said Haku Blaisdell, also a member of the NWU organizing commitee and communications coordinator at the library. “I’m confident that these efforts will strengthen our community and allow us to better fulfill the Newberry’s mission around learning, accessibility, and equity."

The workers’ open letter concludes:

Individually, our voices are quiet and hold little sway, but when we join together we can speak loudly and powerfully on our own behalf. Putting our trust in each other will ensure that employees—the heart of the Newberry Library—are heard now and in the future. Our union is an embodiment of the commitment to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion in order to be a resource for all of Chicago and beyond.

Newberry Workers United is affiliated with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31. AFSCME is the largest union for cultural workers, including more than 25,000 library workers at 275 public and private libraries, and 10,000 museum workers at more than 90 cultural institutions in the public and private sectors.

“We’re gratified to help Newberry Library employees claim their voice by coming together to form their union,” AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said. “It’s exciting to see the continued momentum of cultural workers joining together with AFSCME to improve their institutions and their working lives.”

In the Chicago area, AFSCME represents employees of the Chicago Public Library, many suburban libraries, the Art Institute of Chicago, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Cultural Center.

The Newberry Workers United organizing committee is in the process of collecting signed union cards from an overwhelming majority of their coworkers.

AFSCME Council 31 is proud to introduce Newberry Workers United

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