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Cuyahoga County Public Library averts strike as union compromises on wages

The Cuyahoga County Library on Snow Road in Parma, Ohio.
Gabriel Kramer
Ideastream Public Media
Members voted overwhelmingly to strike after a three-day vote last week, according to the SEIU.

Cuyahoga County Public Library staff voted to agree to a new labor contract with the library system, ending the possibility of a labor strike.

Union staff had voted to strike on July 18 if an agreement had not been met.

Wage and salary increases were the biggest issues, according to the Service Employees International Union 1199, which represents about 475 library employees.

The new contract guarantees a 5% wage increase in 2024 (retroactive to March 31 when the previous contract ended), a 4% wage increase in 2025 and a 3% wage increase in 2026.

The union wanted pay increases in line with inflation and the system's revenue growth, said SEIU representative Michael Wood.

"The best way to say it is we compromised on wages," Wood said. "My hope going forward is that library employees and library administration will have a good productive relationship where cooperation and and compromise are they key words."

State audits show library 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.

“We are extremely pleased that there will be no strike and that we will continue to offer uninterrupted services to our customers,” Cuyahoga County Public Library CEO Tracy Strobel said in a statement this week. “CCPL is proud to offer competitive wages, annual pay increases, and robust benefits to full-time and part-time Library employees.”

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

“The library’s never actually said ‘We can’t afford what the union is asking us to do.’ They clearly can afford what we’re asking to do," Wood said. “We’re absolutely willing to work this out. We do not want to strike. We want to let our members continue to do the jobs that they all love doing and continue to serve their customers, but at some point we have to make sure that our members are getting what they deserve."

Wood said both sides agreed on most terms of a new contract weeks ago, but the issue of staff wages and raises lingered. The only other unresolved issue was a term in the contract that determines how the library system staffs Sundays. Wood said those terms remained the same as the previous contract — which is what the union wanted.

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 wanted to change the terms to be able to require or enforce Sunday staffing.

The library system's statement said services could be limited if a strike takes place.

Staff had been working under the terms of the previous contract since March 31 when it expired. The next contract negotiations will take place in 2027.

Updated: July 12, 2024 at 2:10 PM EDT
Cuyahoga County Public Library staff voted to agree to terms with the library system's latest contract offer, averting a labor strike that was set to take place on July 18.
Gabriel Kramer is a reporter/producer and the host of “NewsDepth,” Ideastream Public Media's news show for kids.