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FAQs about Unions



Q. Doesn't ALA-APA act on behalf of professional libraries? Why do we need a union?


A. The ALA-APA advocates for and supports librarians in seeking equitable compensation, but negotiating wages and other compensation must be done at the institutional level. ALA-APA cannot do collective bargaining, so its power to improve wages and benefits is limited. By being part of a union, library workers gain local allies who can help to achieve pay equity and better salaries. This is especially important in public libraries where the union brings greater power to win budget increases from local governments. Unions are one of many ways library workers may improve salaries.


Q. What workplace issues do unions address other than economic ones?

A. Union contracts can create or protect transfer rights, encourage promotion from within, safeguard job security, secure seniority rights and improve other conditions of work. There are many people and forces pressuring library administrators for improvements in services, funds and other matters. The union can give staff an appropriately significant voice with management. A union also helps promote fairness because management has less opportunity to be arbitrary or discriminatory in its dealings with employees. Grievance procedures help to ensure that contract violations are dealt with in a fair and defined manner. In matters governed by a contract, the union and management have a certain equality that ensures that employee rights are respected.


Q. If my library doesn’t have very much money, what difference can a union make?

A. Lack of money is no excuse for discrimination. A union can work with library management to improve the budget. If the current contract calls for raises on a certain schedule, management cannot unilaterally alter that. For any contract provision to be changed, management would need to propose the change during negotiations and justify the need to modify or eliminate the contract language. Any change would require negotiation and agreement by the union and include all employees covered by the contract, not just library staff.



Q. Can a union work well with library management?

A. Absolutely. Unions encourage a more participatory management style, with the union having a voice in decision-making. Regular labor/management meetings can help develop a cooperative working relationship. Many problems can be circumvented with regular dialogue and the mutual respect that a union helps promote.




Q. What about union rules that appear clumsy and make it difficult to get work done? Won’t having a union lower the quality of library service?

A. Work rules come from contract negotiations between union members and library management. In most cases, rules improve working conditions for library staff. The point of these rules is fairness and equity for all workers. By improving pay and working conditions, unions help lower staff turnover, improve staff morale and consequently improve the quality of service.



Q. Can I be in a union along with the people I supervise? Or, how can I be in the same union as my boss?

A. Unions have stewards who deal with grievances from different levels of staff. Many problems for library workers emanate from the top levels of management (most middle managers only carry out the policies of the administration). These issues can often be handled between the union and the top level of management at the library without involving members.



Q. What if the state where I work doesn’t allow public employees to have collective bargaining rights?

A. Unions can and do exist in these states. The more people who join and build the union, the more strength the union will have with legislators and other decision-makers who can make changes in the law. Labor groups are working in these states to change the laws and need your support, both as a union member and as a voter.



Q. If we join a big union, will library workers get lost in the shuffle?

A. The rank and file has power in a union in direct proportion to their participation. The library workers group within a union may be small in numbers but can influence the priorities of the union toward library-specific issues by having a strong presence at union meetings and activities. Being part of a large, powerful union can increase your “clout” with management.



Q. Can I be forced to join a union if my library coworkers decide to be represented by one?

ASome states are right to work states. According to the AFL-CIO, this  " allows workers to pay nothing and get all the benefits of union membership. Right to work laws say unions must represent all eligible employees, whether they pay dues or not. This forces unions to use their time and members’ dues money to provide union benefits to free riders who are not willing to pay their fair share. " In other jurisdictions, “union shops” are the rule, i.e., everyone is required to pay a fee to the union if they are beneficiaries of the same raises, benefits and protections as members.



Q. Can I be fired if I try to organize a union?

A. It is illegal to fire someone for union activity. Employers can be fined for violating this law. The union will work with activists to protect them or at least advise on restricted activities. State labor laws and the National Labor Relations provide protection for those organizing unions. Once you are in a union, your contract should have additional provisions that protect workers from retaliation.



Q. Aren’t unions corrupt?

A.No. Like any other group or association, some unions are better than others. If you don’t already have a union, you should shop around for the best union to represent you. If you and your co-workers don’t feel adequately represented by your union, it is important to get involved and make your concerns known. To have a stronger voice at work and win higher salaries requires hard work at the library and within the union. The more library staff that are involved, the more this work can be shared so it is easier for individuals to do what they can, when they can.

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