MIT Library workers campaign to unionize

Over 100 library workers will vote Nov. 6

Workers at MIT’s libraries are campaigning to unionize with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 93. After submitting a petition to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Oct. 15, over 100 eligible library workers will vote on whether to unionize Nov. 6.

Director of MIT Libraries Chris Bourg wrote in a letter to inform library workers about the vote, “The administration respects your right to make this decision and will honor the results of the upcoming election. The decision is yours and we will respect it. I encourage all library employees who are eligible to vote to do so, to ensure that your voice will be heard.”

A website outlining unionization goals calls for “A Better MIT” and lists the library workers’ demands, including a higher salary for support and administrative staff, promotion paths, and a quicker transition for employees  from temporary to long-term status.

In a phone interview with The Tech, Margaret Willison, access services assistant at MIT’s Dewey Library, said, “The sort of overarching thing that we want is more considered, consistent, and ethical treatment for people at our tier of the library, which is librarians who don't supervise or manage any full time employees or access services staff and basically handle the material running of the library.”

Willison, who has been working in the Libraries since 2007, said that her role has evolved in the past 12 years, though the name of her position has stayed the same. Many long-time employees like her find that “there's no system in place to meaningfully recognize and reward or progress on that." Willison and her colleagues want this trend to change. 

If a majority of library workers vote to unionize, AFSCME would become the workers’ exclusive bargaining agent for pay, hours, and other conditions of employment. MIT would no longer be able to work with the employees directly to resolve related issues, unless authorized to do so by the union.

In an email to The Tech, Bourg wrote, “While the petition was surprising, the decision is for each individual to make and we respect it. Regardless of the outcome of this election, I am committed to continuing to work with library employees on behalf of the health and welfare of our workforce.”

Bourg continued, “We have already been working on a number of fronts within Libraries to address the concerns we have heard, including conducting a wide-ranging compensation review and the establishment of working groups devoted to fostering an inclusive and welcoming Libraries culture.”

A hack was organized by library workers in Lobby 7 Oct. 16: a large banner printed with the words “The Future of Libraries is UNIONIZED” was hung from the balconies. The hack was taken down within two hours, which Willison described as a “pretty disappointing reaction as far as the Institute is concerned.”

Willison said she has received support from students and community members. “When people come into the library, the people that they're interacting with are us. For the majority of students, I'm the librarian, regardless of whether that's my job title or not.”

Willison expects that the workers will be able to unite successfully. “We have this really admirable goal of figuring out what libraries are going to look like in the future.” Under such circumstances, “I really think that it’s necessary to have someone at the table with workers of my tier in the Libraries so that our voices are heard effectively,” she concluded.