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Cuyahoga County Public Library staff mulls strike as wages remain sticking point, organizers say

The exterior of the Cuyahoga County Public Library in Parma
Gabriel Kramer
Ideastream Public Media
Cuyahoga County Public Library in Parma

Labor strikes are on the table for Cuyahoga County Public Library staff as it negotiates a new three-year contract with the administration to improve wages and salary raises.

The library and the Service Employees International Union 1199, which represents about 475 library employees, are negotiating a new contract after the previous one expired on March 31.

“What we’re asking for, the library can afford. You know, their revenue has grown over that amount of time and what we’re proposing won’t even make up for what people lost over that amount of time,” said Michael Wood, a lead administrative organizer for SEIU 1199.

SEIU 1199 wants to increase wages to catch up with inflation and the CCPL’s revenue increase, said Wood.

State audits show CCPL revenue increased from about $66 million to about $94 million from 2007 to 2022 — a 45% increase. Staff wages haven’t increased at the same rate, according to Wood.

The library system offers "competitive wages, regular pay increases, and
robust benefits to Library employees," according to a statement from Kate McCreary, a library spokesperson. In 2022 and 2023, the system voluntarily gave employees a 2% wage increase on top of the 3% raise that was part of the previous contract because of high inflation, she said.

The union also said it wants a system where staff can more easily receive raises beyond annual cost of living increases, including those based on tenure and experience.

“The library can clearly afford, but now they’re buying their labor from us cheaper and nobody progresses through that pay scale,” Wood said. “That’s why we have a huge issue with their wage proposal.”

The library will continue to negotiate, McCreary said. But details about how much of an increase in pay staff will receive remains a sticking point.

“We are confident that we will achieve an outcome that maintains fair wages for library employees while remaining responsible stewards of our public funding,” she said in the statement. “The current wage proposal from CCPL represents the largest increase ever in one contract but the union is demanding twice what we have offered.”

Wood said both sides have agreed on most terms of a new contract, but the issue of staff wages and raises lingers. The only other unresolved issue is a term in the contract that determines how the library system staffs Sundays.

According to Wood, the library currently staffs Sundays through a system of staff members offering or requesting to work. For many staff members, wages are increased on Sundays. Wood said CCPL wants to change the terms to be able to require or enforce Sunday staffing.

“The library claims that they have not been able to adequately staff these libraries,” Wood said. “What we’ve actually been able to show is they have no harder time staffing Sunday than they do any other day of the week.

The staff’s union contract ended on March 31 and the staff has been operating on the terms of the previous contract since then.

SEIU 1199 members have picketed outside the county library branch on Snow Road in Parma and other locations since the contract ended including once earlier this week, Wood said. All picketing thus far has been done on staff’s personal time — not as part of a labor strike.

The union will hold a two-day strike vote on June 20 and 21.

Gabriel Kramer is a reporter/producer and the host of “NewsDepth,” Ideastream Public Media's news show for kids.