Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Post: D.C. Public Library Workers raising concerns about coronavirus safety

Towards the end of last week, the Washington Post reported that, despite the assurances of the library system head, library workers in the Washington D.C. public library system are raising what they say are serious concerns with safety around the spread of the coronavirus.

Employees in the system, which opened much more aggressively and earlier than many other public libraries across the country, say that the libraries are keeping them in the dark about potential cases and exposures, have failed to implement sufficient cleaning protocols, and are struggling with mask requirements. While many neighboring systems are limited to curbside access only, D.C. has opened up the inside of 14 locations across the city.

Monday, July 20, 2020

SEIU: Workers in 25+ Cities Walk Off Jobs to Confront Systemic Racism

In a press release issued July 8th, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) reported that thousands of workers in 25+ cities organized by SEIU, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the American Federation of Teachers, United Farm Workers, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and the Fight for $15 and a Union would walk off the job July 20th to demand action from corporations and the government to confront systemic racism.

Workers who cannot strike for the entire day will walk off the job for 8 minutes, the amount of time a Minneapolis police officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd, to draw attention to the issues of systemic violence directed towards Black people in the United States.

Along with the press release above, you can also find more information on the action on the Strike for Black Lives website.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Reuters: NLRB considering abolishing or scaling back contract bar doctrine

Reuters is reporting that the National Labor Relations Board has put out a call for amicus briefs regarding the status of contract bar doctrine.

The doctrine, a long established precedent observed by the NLRB, prevents union decertification elections for three years after a collective bargaining agreement comes into effect.

The doctrine is being challenged by a poultry plant employee in Delaware, represented by the National Right to Work Defense Foundation, who claims that the precedent restricts employees "free choice."

LitHub: Authors cancelling events at Free Library of Philadelphia over treatment of Black employees

At the end of June, Black employees of the Free Library of Philadelphia issued an open letter detailing the discrimination and disregard for safety following order for staff to return to library buildings. The letter is very much worth a read in its own right, especially as many of the issues detailed are not unique to Black workers in the FLP system.

The workers have now begun to see further support coming from authors who had scheduled events at the FLP. As of July 8th, LitHub reported that six authors had all cancelled events in solidarity with the workers after hearing that the concerns raised by Black workers were not being adressed and the situation on the ground had not improved.

Monday, July 6, 2020

PBS: Philly Free Library workers say 'No Confidence' in library leadership

Less than a day into the return of library workers to the physical spaces of the Philadelphia Free Library, and with no patrons allowed in the buildings, employees were already sharing stories of a woefully under prepared system that was beginning to open back up.

According to local PBS affiliate WHYY, employees reported expired and missing sanitizing wipe, nearly expired hand sanitizer, lack of soap, overheated, unclean spaces, and inadequate PPE among other concerns of misallocated resources and racism.

These concerns inspired a petition launched by unionized employees of the library system declaring "no confidence" in library leadership and demanding the Board of Trustees force the current library director to step down and for the union to be consulted on finding a replacement. The petition followed a day after Black library workers had released an open letter regarding racism in the library system.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Articles on Library Labor and Related Industries

Several recent developments in conversations and actions regarding labor in library and related fields have come up in recent weeks, some important stories and articles ULW Blog readers may be interested in are below:

First, Library Journal published an editorial at the beginning of the month by Meredith Schwartz, calling for a national library labor organization:

There have been two recent developments in the publishing industry as well. On the 8th, Vulture published an article on a one day strike by 1,300 publishing sector workers who were protesting systemic racism in the publishing industry:

Also, authors have begun a social media based movement hashtagged #publishingpaidme to highlight disparities between what Black authors are paid compared to non-Black authors. Buzzfeed has more on that story here:

Monday, June 8, 2020

Black Lives Matter in the Library and the Workspace

Over the past two weeks, the nation and globe have been rocked by demonstrations set off by the police and vigilante murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Despite the continuing fear of the growing COVID-19 pandemic, people have turned out in the thousands in their local communities; and many more have offered their support online, unable to attend the demonstrations due to health concerns. Communities that have never seen demonstrations before have seen hundred take to the streets, and even historic hot beds of Klan activity have seen communities demand justice for Black victims of police and vigilante justice and an end to systemic racism that regularly strips Black Americans of their most basic rights.

Library workers should take this moment as an opportunity to support this movement in what ever way we are able as a field committed to equal access to information and information justice. Further, we should take a deep look into a profession that has long upheld white supremacist power structures and relied on systemic gate keeping that has resulted in a disproportionately white profession, even in libraries that serve predominantly Black communities.

Too often, library professionals decry the inequality in our profession or wax philosophically about ideas like antiracist practices and decolonization without changing the ways our libraries function. Comfort is often given precedence over the difficult changes that will need to be implemented within our libraries and our profession.

It is well past time to listen to our Black colleagues and patrons, who are all to familiar with the disregard given to their concerns. Our libraries were built upon white supremacist ideals of propriety, civilization, worth, individualism, objectivity, and space by the likes of Melville Dewey, Andrew Carnegie, and the Boston Brahman class. The literary cannon reflects these same ideals, and the publishing industry has yet to make the changes demanded for years by authors of color. This is to say nothing of higher education which remains painfully unrepresentative of society and pushes the voices of Black academics along with other marginalized groups into the periphery or niche fields.

While the labor movement was indusputably founded upon the racist ideals of the early AFL which sought to elevate the white labor force from the newly freed Black work force following the Civil War and white workers benefited the most from the labor peace that followed WWII, we also know that the labor movement has a long history of anti-racist struggle when Black workers have been allowed the space to lead. From the Industrial Workers of the World to the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement to Amazon workers who have launched one day strikes just 25 miles outside of Minneapolis, Black workers have often been at the forefront of the labor struggle.

Those of us fortunate to be in a union ought to be asking our union leadership what it plans to do to ensure more Black librarians are hired. We should all be examining our library collections and programming, as well as library policies about handling disturbances in the library. We must be aware that every time police or armed security is called we are putting our Black coworkers and patrons at risk.

Calls are being raised to defund police departments across the country and redirect those funds to services that will help communities without having to turn to law enforcement as the first and last choice. Libraries that have been starved for funding, that have seen the very real needs of our patrons to receive social services, psychiatric help, improved education systems, housing, food security, jobs, and so much more have an opportunity to lend our voices to this discussion and this call. Libraries and library workers often lament that the library has become the catchall in the wake of the hollowing out of our social safety net, with library workers needing to wear many hats that we have never been trained to wear, now is the opportunity to join the efforts to see that that is no longer the case.

Those of us who work in libraries ought to join the call, loud and clear:

Black Lives Matter
Black Books Matter
Black Library Workers Matter
Black Communities Matter
Black Education Matters
Black Health Matters