Employees of the Enoch Pratt Free Library system are asking the agency to recognize their request to form a union with AFSCME Council 67. An employee union would cover 21 EPFL branches and the Central Library, shown here. (Photo Courtesy)

By AFRO Staff

Workers of the Enoch Pratt Free Library system in Baltimore are now calling for employees to unionize.

On June 8 the Pratt Workers United (PWU) attended an EPFL board meeting and demanded union recognition for Baltimore City’s library workers. The group is made up of a mix of part-time and full-time workers, and started in early 2021.

“We deserve a voice in all decisions that affect us.We deserve good wages and benefits for all, including part-time employees,” said the union supporters, in their mission statement. “We deserve to have our concerns about our health, safety, and general working conditions taken seriously. We deserve freedom from racism, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, classism, ageism, and harassment of all kinds.”

The PWU website states the following as goals of the union:

  • Transparent communication and collaborative decision-making so we have a voice in all decisions that affect us and the communities we serve.
  • A workplace that values the health and safety of all workers, including our physical and mental well-being.
  • Good wages, full benefits for part-time employees, and transparent, evenly applied standards for hiring, promotion, pay, and contractual work.
  • A work culture in which we are all treated with respect and dignity.

The workers intend to create a union for EPFL workers with AFSCME Council 67. 

Using the PWU website, the workers claim that they have been “kept siloed and isolated from one another” and that “part-time workers are paid poorly and receive no benefits.”

The workers claim that “library management has demonstrated numerous times a total disregard for the health and safety of workers and patrons, including throughout the COVID-19 pandemic” and “during the 3-year Central Library renovation in which they covered up the presence of asbestos in work areas.”

The workers also said they wanted to unionize due to “hiring, promotions and discipline, which are currently handled in an unfair and arbitrary manner that is often discriminatory, racist and sexist.”

In an email sent unsolicited to the AFRO American Newspapers, former security officer Dwayne Armstead, discussed some of the hiring procedures he felt were violated during his time at EFPL.

Employees of the Enoch Pratt Free Library system are asking the agency to recognize their request to form a union with AFSCME Council 67. An employee union would cover 21 EPFL branches and the Central Library, shown here. (Photo Courtesy)

“Enoch Free Library does not practice in line promotion,” he said. “For example,when an officer –which is what I was– sees a position open and he has the seniority for that job, he is supposed to get the job. I was stepped over six times for a job that I did not get.”

Meghan McCorkell, chief of marketing, communications and strategy for EPFL said the following when asked about the union: 

“The Pratt Library respects our employees’ right to select union representation if that’s what they choose. We look forward to answering any questions our employees may have about that process going forward.” 

When asked about hiring practices, McCorkell said that “promotional opportunities at the Pratt Library are not based on seniority.”

According to a statement released by AFSME, the EPFL union would offer protections to employees at EPFL’s Central Library, located downtown, and 21 branches spread out across Baltimore City. 

The signatures of all who have agreed to be a part of the union are available for all to view on the PWU website, along with comments on why some of the employees decided to join. 

Employees called out EPFL administrators, who they allege make “decisions based on what they believe will attract media attention and excite wealthy donors, not what benefits workers or patrons.”

“I am supportive of collective bargaining because it is my sincere belief that a workplace which takes care of its employees is healthier for it,” said Dorian Gray. “I do not think that the relationship between a union and management need be adversarial, instead I see it as an exchange where economic security and peace of mind is repaid with dedication and loyalty.”

“I want a union so I can have enough money to pay my rent,” said Donta Hughes.

Marti Dirscherl, another Pratt worker said “I support Pratt Workers United because I believe in libraries and equity, respect for all staff, pay increases [and a] safe environment. Better staff [means] better for library patrons.”

According to data from the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, only about 26 percent of library workers were in unions as of 2020.

The Enoch Pratt Library is one of the oldest public library systems in the United States. According to information released by EPFL, “the Enoch Pratt Free Library was opened in January of 1886 with 32,000 volumes, four branch libraries, and a $1,058,333.00 endowment for upkeep and expansion.” 

From computers and tablets to online school resources and internet access, EPFL offers free tools and knowledge to help the community reach their goals. Union supporters say having their collective bargaining unit would only improve services and increase the positive impact the library has in the community.

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