The American Library Association-Allied Professional Association has a Better Salaries Tool Kit on its website with background on library unionization.
Unionizing As a Strategy
Working within a union can be a very effective strategy for working toward better pay.
According to the Bureau of National Affairs, union
librarians make an average of 37 percent more than nonunion
librarians. The difference is even more dramatic
among support staff as statistics show that staff covered
by a union contract make 42 percent more than those
without a union. Between 17 and 21 percent of library
workers are unionized. (Bureau of National Affairs. Union
Membership and Earnings Data Book. Washington, D.C.:
The American Library Association recognizes the role
of unions in the ALA Policy Manual, Library Personnel
Practices, Section 54.11, which states:
The American Library Association recognizes the
principle of collective bargaining as one of the
methods of conducting labor-management
relations used by private and public institutions.
The Association affirms the right of eligible library
employees to organize and bargain collectively
with their employers, or to refrain from organizing
and bargaining collectively, without fear of
A statement of guidelines is kept as part of the
“Current Reference File” at ALA Headquarters. The
guidelines, also adopted by the ALA governing body,
state that ALA recognizes a responsibility to educate and
provide pertinent information regarding library
unionization and collective bargaining.
Working conditions are also addressed in the ALA
Code of Ethics, which states:
We treat co-workers and other colleagues with
respect, fairness, and good faith, and advocate
conditions of employment that safeguard the rights
and welfare of all employees of our institutions.
How Unions Can Improve Salaries
The most important way that a union can raise wages is
through the collective bargaining agreement or the
contract. Through negotiating a contract, library workers
do two things: they come up with common objectives
and work with management to achieve them. What is
agreed upon is legally binding.
Unions can also raise salaries by working with other
community organizations on Living Wage campaigns to
raise people’s wages above the poverty level.
Example: In October 2001, the Central Arkansas
Library system approved a living wage policy of at least
$9 per hour for support staff. (See toolkit section on
“Living Wage and Other Low Income Movements”)
Unions have been involved for many years in getting
cities/counties to conduct pay equity studies and get the
results implemented. AFSCME has a useful guide on pay
equity available at their website called “We’re Worth It.”
Example: In 1981, unionized city workers (including
library workers) in San Jose, CA, negotiated an
improvement package that contained comparable worth
increases every two years for 10 years. Now San Jose
library employees are among the best paid in the
How can a union raise your salary when there is no
money in the budget to pay for salary increases? A union
can provide political clout. As an organized group
working together with management, unions can help
make the library a higher priority with the city, county,
university or relevant library funding bodies.
Frequently Asked Questions about Unions in Libraries
Q. Doesn’t ALA-APA act on behalf of professional librarians?
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.
Q. What workplace issues do unions address other than
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
Q. What 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
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
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?
In many 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
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
Q. Aren’t unions corrupt?
A. 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.
Ensuring Fair Play
When library employees consider joining and obtaining
representation from a union, they may wonder whether
their employer will play fair or will follow the practice of
many employers in attempting to influence, by almost
any means, the decision-making process of the
employees. Such attempts to dissuade employees from
joining a union can have a very unsettling effect on
morale and the provision of public service.
A neutrality agreement is one method used by
employers and unions to state their formal commitment
to allow employees to decide without interference
whether or not they will join a union and have
representation rights. For an example of such an
agreement, see Appendix J.
Starting a Union
www.aflcio.org/home.htm and www.aflcio.org/
Start here to find labor contacts and read about
the union agenda.