Cleveland library workers to strike if talks continue to break down


Courtesy of Wikipedia

After months of negotiations, Cleveland Library workers will go on strike on Feb. 4 if an agreement is not made.

Matt Hooke, Executive Editor

Library workers with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) District 1199 sent the Cleveland Public Library (CPL) an intent to strike notice after months of negotiation led to a standstill. The strike will begin on Feb. 4 if a new three-year agreement is not reached on Jan. 23. (This article was written before Jan 23, so check the online version for any updates.)

The negotiations turned petty earlier this month as the CPL system took to Twitter to argue that claims that library workers were underpaid are a myth. The library took to social media after the SEIU voted to authorize a strike on Jan. 8.

The CPL said that since most unions are fighting for $15 an hour, a starting pay between $17.50 and $24.00 per hour should be considered acceptable. The CPL ignores that most unions are arguing for a $15 an hour wage is considered the bare minimum to have a decent living. Nationally, a wage of $22.96 is necessary to rent a two-bedroom home, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. In Cuyahoga County, the living wage for one adult and two kids is $26.98.

Case Western Reserve University Assistant Professor of Economics Jenny Hawkins said that CPL’s actions do not violate the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) regulations requiring both parties in a collective bargaining negotiation. 

“Using the term ‘underpaid’ is so subjective that I don’t believe one could argue saying that would be not bargaining in good faith,” said Hawkins. “One tweet I saw from the library is they were aiming to clarify reports that workers hadn’t received raises, which they (the library) claim they have given raises. Now, the union might still claim they are ‘underpaid’ but both sides’ definitions of ‘underpaid’ are likely different.”

The SEIU said the negotiations are more about staff shortages and increased safety concerns after a 19-year-old was murdered outside of the CPL’s South Brooklyn branch. 

“The most significant concerns of workers with Cleveland Public Library are not based on economics,” wrote the SEIU on their website. “Workers are concerned about ensuring adequate staffing and good union jobs for the community, in addition to security and safety for library employees and patrons.”

Channel 19 WOIO said that on Jan. 14 the library announced they will hire 15 full-time safety officers with nine part-time officers being promoted to full-time. In a statement on the SEIU website, the union cited how over 100 union jobs have been eliminated over the past ten years while executive pay continues to rise.0 The current Executive Director of the CPL, Felton Thomas Jr., earns $220,000 a year, with 5% raises built into his contract, making him one of the highest-paid public officials in Cleveland with a higher salary than Mayor Frank Jackson. 

“Taxpayers approved increases in taxes in order to support the services we provide to our neighbors and our community, but instead Cleveland Public Library executives have shifted their priorities from public service to self-service,” said Erick Walker, a Senior Subject Department Clerk at the Cleveland Public Library and SEIU District 1199 Executive Board Member on their website. “It’s time they get their priorities straight.”

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders expressed his support for the striking SEIU workers.

“Public libraries are essential to our communities,” tweeted Sanders. “The workers who provide these vital services deserve adequate staffing and safe working conditions.” 

If an agreement is not reached, CPL said they will temporarily close several branches and suspend several programs. CPL is the 14th largest library system in the country with a collection of 3,946,416 items.