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Cleveland Public Library, Union Approaching Deadline For New Contract

Cleveland Public Library workers hope to address concerns over low staffing and safety concerns in the current round of union negotiations.

Library officials will meet with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1199 representatives for the final negotiation Dec. 27, just four days before the deadline for a new contract. Negotiations have been already been going on for a few months.

“We are optimistic that through conversations with executives at the Cleveland Public Library that we can still reach an agreement and avoid any kind of work stoppage, but that is still an option that’s out there in the event that an agreement cannot be reached,” said Anthony Caldwell, director of public affairs for SEIU District 1199 WV/KY/OH. The union represents 383 employees across 27 library branches in the Cleveland area.

All the proposals still being debated were proposed by library management, Caldwell said, and a strike could still be on the table if negotiations fall apart. Members are asking for better security and higher wages, Caldwell said, as well as pushing back against a proposal to replace paid union positions with volunteer workers.

The call for security improvements at neighborhood branches comes after a 19-year old was found with multiple gunshot wounds in the bathroom of CPL’s South Brooklyn Branch in July and later died of his injuries.

“We know that there have been incidents in the library, some of them extremely violent and some of them minor,” Caldwell said. “We want to have a serious conversation with CPL executives about, how do we keep our patrons, our visitors and our staff safe in every branch across the city?”

And while higher wages are part of the discussion for union members, Caldwell says they aren’t a priority in the face of other issues.

“Obviously, workers want to earn more so they can better provide for their families,” he said. “But what they’re really fighting for in this contract is to make sure that every library is safe, properly staffed, and there are the people there that you need whenever you go to the public library.”

Another concern is a proposal to replace some union jobs with library volunteers to make up for low staffing levels, Caldwell said. Librarians are qualified for the work the facilities require, he said, and replacing those jobs with people who have less training would impact visitors.

“The concern is that the patrons could ultimately be the ones that would suffer if you remove these responsibilities from credentialed, educated employees of the library,” Caldwell said.

The Cleveland Public Library declined to discuss the negotiations. In an emailed statement to ideastream, a spokesperson says the library is devoted to staff and patrons.

“We are committed to bargaining in good faith and therefore, we choose not to discuss the substance of the negotiations publicly,” the statement says. “We are asking SEIU to continue to join us at the negotiation table for meaningful dialogue in order to reach an agreement in a timely fashion.”

The current contract expires at the end of the calendar year.

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