Northwestern University Library Workers Union seeks recognition

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After over a year of private deliberation, Northwestern library staff publicly announced their union formation Tuesday and are demanding formal recognition from the university.

The Northwestern University Library Workers Union plans to represent over 130 NU workers. The union was formed in conjunction with SEIU Local 73, which represents government workers in Illinois and northwest Indiana.

Library Assistant Drew Clower, Organizing Committee Member, said he was pushed into action by the university’s pandemic austerity measures. Library staff lost pension benefits and impending layoffs, and the university has a disproportionate number of library staff on leave compared to other NU staff – librarians say 1 in 5 library staff have been on leave.

“It’s absolutely a wonderful experience to be with your colleagues,” said Clower. “It really connects us better with our work and gives us an opportunity to rethink the way services are evolving when we ask for a say in the decisions that affect us.”

As part of its public announcement, the union issued a petition into Provost Kathleen Hagerty’s office and began the process of formally applying to the National Labor Relations Board.

If the university voluntarily recognizes the union, the two bodies can start negotiations, SEIU Local 73 communications specialist Adrian Rojas called. If NU does not voluntarily recognize the union, the two parties will go to an NLRB-led hearing until they decide on union recognition.

“These librarians answer questions day and night, helping students and visitors alike,” said Rojas. “When you finally have some kind of structure to really fight for yourself, it will be a long way for you.”

Archive processing specialist and organizing committee member Jill Waycie said library workers started working towards unionization in the spring of 2020.

“We have a really strong community of library supporters and I am very excited to move forward and achieve this victory,” said Waycie.

Metadata librarian and organizing committee member Michael Babinec said he wanted the university to voluntarily respect librarians’ right to unionize.

He added that he hoped the union would help workers maintain a more transparent and cooperative relationship with NU.

“The way they went on vacation and laid off people was really motivating to me because it was daunting,” said Babinec. “The fact that the university found a (budget) surplus at the end of the day makes it even more a shame that our colleagues on leave are back, but not those who have been dismissed.”

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