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Salt Lake City Public Library employees want to unionize

Salt Lake City Public Library employees gather outside the main library downtown to announce their intent to unionize to the Library Board of Directors, April 24, 2023.
Saige Miller
Salt Lake City Public Library employees gather outside the main library downtown to announce their intent to unionize to the Library Board of Directors, April 24, 2023.

Salt Lake City Public Library employees announced their intent to unionize Monday, marking Utah's first library workers union. If successful, the Salt Lake City Public Library Workers United Union would cover roughly 345 employees across nine branches. They partnered with the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, the union that represents other city employees.

The local president of AFSCME, Jerry Philpott, said library employees are the only workers in the city who are excluded from union representation.

The effort to unionize has been ongoing for the last year. Workers decided to take the step to resolve what they say are “long-standing issues” at the library, like safety and wage concerns.

“As staff, we are paid low wages during a time of rising rent and inflation,” said Jacob Rosenzweig, a librarian at the Marmalade branch, in a statement. “We – who serve the public, who help keep our branches clean and safe, who directly implement and feel the effects of every policy – deserve to have real input in the decision-making processes that affect us and the public, and we deserve to be compensated appropriately for it. A union can help us achieve that."

Esther Daranciang, a children’s librarian with the library system, said all frontline staff have the decision to join the union. The only employees excluded are those in human resources and those who have “hire or fire power.”

To Michelle Cao, a library assistant at the main library in downtown Salt Lake City, unionizing is a way to have her voice be heard. She is specifically concerned about wages.

“The cost of living has skyrocketed in Salt Lake City, but our wages remain the same,” Cao said. “So we don't have sufficient health care, we don't have sufficient benefits and our wages have stayed stagnant for quite some time.”

On average, the website ZipRecruiter reports librarians in Utah make around $53,400 a year. According to the website Glassdoor, the average salary for a librarian in the Salt Lake City Public Library system is just over $49,000 a year.

But other staff workers, like part-time library aids, make $12.50 an hour. Custodians' starting pay is under $15 an hour and library assistants are compensated at $15 an hour.

Cao added library leadership announced Monday, the same day library employees went public about the union, that staff would receive a bonus.

“A one-time bonus is not sufficient and it's only with a contract that we can have a consistent say in the decision making at the library,” she said.

Cao also has safety concerns that she said have not been handled adequately by leadership.

“Personally, as a woman of color, I do experience, regularly, sexual and racial harassment. So it's things like that that pop up here and there that we want to address amongst our staff,” she said.

Daranciang echoed similar sentiments. She said since library staff are public facing, they can’t always predict what is going to happen. As a result, employees are sometimes “faced with verbal abuse and other varieties of abuse. We just want to make sure that all of our staff are safe.”

The union doesn’t have “specific demands” right now, Cao said, because the group is still trying to gain support from more staff across each branch.

The workers hope the Library Board of Directors will voluntarily recognize the union and vote to approve the collective bargaining resolution. They gave the board a week to decide.

Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
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