People protesting

Sunday evening workers and supporters of workers at Worthington’s three library branches gathered on Worthington’s Village Green to rally support for voting yes to unionize. The year-long effort to unionize the workers at Worthington Public Libraries has come down to a vote, which employees and the community are optimistic will result in the recognition of the union.

If workers at Worthington Public Libraries succeed in forming a union, it would be the first library to be unionized in Franklin County. Libraries in Franklin County are fragmented among individual towns and cities, which is why the City of Worthington has three branches under Worthington Public Libraries. Columbus has its own library system, Columbus Metropolitan Libraries, and cities like Bexley, Upper Arlington, and others each have their own independent libraries, but all share resources with each other.

Tim Burga, the president of Ohio AFL-CIO spoke at the rally. “When it comes right down to it Ohioans believe in workers' opportunity to form and join a union and have a voice at work, to make life better for themselves, their families, their community, and the state.” He quoted a recent Gallup poll that found that 68% percent of Americans approve of labor unions, the highest since 1965. Gallup concluded that “Americans' approval of labor unions has been trending upward in recent years and is now at its highest point in more than half a century.”

Burga reminded the audience that if they unionize, they would be joining “700,000 other union workers in the state of Ohio.” Their union would be a part of the statewide Ohio Federation of Teachers, which is affiliated with the national American Federation of Teachers, a part of the AFL-CIO.

The vote to recognize the Worthington Public Libraries United (WPLU) union started September 28 and the results will be announced October 20. This vote was forced after Worthington Libraries board of trustees voted in June not to recognize library staff's request to be recognized despite around 70% of workers signing and submitting union cards to the State Employee Relations Board. Since the board of trustees didn’t voluntarily recognize the union, the union now has to be formally recognized by the State Employee Relations Board through a vote.

WPLU would include all 180 employees at Worthington Public Libraries, from circulation and information to community outreach and tech service workers. WPLU says they respect and love working at Worthington Public Libraries, but want to make sure they’re getting fair pay, benefits, and a seat at the table when it comes to decision making. “We deserve a voice in the policies that affect us,” they said in a statement. “We deserve opportunities to provide meaningful input on the direction and future of the library.”

The Department of Professional Employees found that while only a quarter of librarians in 2020 were union members, they earned 38% more per week than non-union members. Union library assistants earned a 48% higher hourly wage in 2018 and union library technicians earned 49% more in 2009 than their non-union counterparts. They also found that union members are far more likely to have a retirement plan, health insurance, and paid sick leave.

Senator Sherrod Brown wrote a letter in support of the WPLU, saying that “your work to improve the working conditions, pay and health benefits will have a lasting impact not only on your workers, but on the state of Ohio.”

A circulation aid at Worthington Public Library’s Old Worthington branch, Brain Colley indicated how much he enjoyed his work. “This is not just a job for me, but a calling; as I’m sure it is for many if not all of my colleagues.” He went on, “And all I’ve ever wanted from this library was a chance to serve our community and to achieve a better way of life. Something that at times seems like an impossible dream. But my colleagues and I have a vision for a better workplace.” Colley specified, “A workplace that provides fair wages, benefits, and a chance for a truly collaborative effort between everyone at Worthington Libraries to help this nationally recognized, 200-year-old institution to continue to excel at serving our community.”