A colorful makeshift book drop box sat in front of the podium in the lobby of the United Steelworkers building in downtown Pittsburgh on Monday evening. One by one, employees stated their names and positions with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh system. They then dropped their signed union cards in the drop box.
This was the first step of the United Library Workers committee's efforts to form a union for Carnegie Library workers. The union would represent employees of the library’s 19 branches and the library support center.
At the event, employees voiced concerns of the decision-making process in issues like pay, benefits, hiring practices and promotions.
Rachel Masilamani, a part-time librarian, says often she is hesistant to take time off when she is sick because she loses money.
"When I lose a day, I don't just lose that income, I oftentimes — because I am sick — have to take on the added cost of health care on top of that, so I end up deeper in the hole," she said. "I've committed myself to this work and I believe that I can do much better work if I'm not fearful of losing that time."
Other concerns included diversity in hiring. Camden Yandel, a teen specialist and library assistant at the East Liberty branch, said the staff does not represent the community.
"While practicing cultural competence is important in making space for diversity, [the library] needs to go above and beyond in order to retain support and make space for the diversity that exists within our rank," Yandel said. "We deserve clarity from management and a say when decisions are made that affect not only us, but our patrons as well. And we deserve staff and leadership that is diverse and reflects the community we serve."
United Library Workers formed a year ago with the hopes to create a union. Masilamani said the next steps are to get more employees to join and hold a union vote. The union will not represent drivers and environmental service workers, since they are already represented by the Teamsters and SEIU, respectively.
Last week, a library spokesperson said the organization is aware of the unionization activity and respects employees' legal rights.