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SCLWU Bargaining Committee's opening statement to Smith College management

On June 13, 2024, the SCLWU Bargaining Committee met at the table with Smith College management for the first time. At this meeting, the Bargaining Committee presented the following statement to management:


It was serendipitous timing that, while the SCLWU Bargaining Committee worked to create this opening statement presented to Smith management today, Libraries staff were also asked to compile lists of accomplishments from the last year to showcase at an internal celebration the same week. 


To list just a few examples, our members in:


  • Collections, Discovery and Systems processed more than 1,500 invoices with nearly 5,000 purchase order lines, each line representing a resource available in the Libraries’ collection.

  • The subject librarians in Teaching, Learning and Research taught 101 classes to 1,707 students, conducted 316 research consultations by appointment, and answered 608 emails through the library help queue, in addition to collection development, first years' orientation and running community building events in all three libraries.

  • Libraries Administration migrated more than 400 web pages to a new interface and met their annual giving goals three months ahead of schedule.

  • Public Services completed an eight-month-long reshelving project in the Five College Annex and provided support for nearly 350 Smith College courses.

  • Special Collections supported nearly 1,700 researcher visits, answered more than 1,500 research questions, and digitized hundreds of thousands of files for the College Archives.


The statistics collected by our workers across the Libraries paint a clear picture: we work incredibly hard, beyond the scope of our job descriptions, to provide exceptional service to the place our own marketing materials call “the heart of Smith.”


The numbers also do not capture the tangible passion, care, and genuine interest held by our members; we possess a spirit that elevates the Libraries beyond a hub of research and knowledge, to a place where all those who seek our services are deeply supported in every step of their educational journeys.


With that in mind, here’s what was also not recognized at the staff celebration this week:


  • SCLWU members make, on average, $69,904 annually. Our Public Services staff average $51,474 a year. Something to think about:

  • The average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Northampton, according to the data found on RentNoho.com, is $1,732 a month, just over 40% of the average gross monthly pay of a Public Services employee, and about 32% of all members’ gross monthly pay. Two- to four-bedroom apartment rent averages jump to $1,921 a month, 36–44% of our members’ gross pay.

  • The standard recommendation from financial advisors is to spend a maximum of 30% of one’s income on housing; our lowest-paid workers are likely to spend at least 10% more than that maximum recommendation per month, without outside financial assistance. In addition, many landlords require proof of income at least three times as much as the rent in order for an application to be accepted.

  • With little opportunity to internally advance their careers, underpaid workers ultimately choose to leave Smith for better pay elsewhere.


  • Equity is highly variable and specific to one’s department and pay grade. There are no clear-cut policies regarding schedule flexibility, benefits, or workload expectations that are easily identifiable and applicable to every SCLWU member. These discrepancies leave some of our members, who do fundamentally important work for the Smith community, feel like second-class employees of the college and Libraries.


  • Organizational restructuring occurs with no input from the staff most impacted by those decisions, leaving members feeling like their positions are subject to change without notice or agency. Supervisory positions are added and taken away through no established process, and workers are often asked to take on work from the restructuring fallout without additional compensation.


These issues point to what may be the most noticeable cause for concern within the Libraries—the ongoing retention crisis. According to SCL organizational charts from 2022 to 2024, 28 staff members departed from the Libraries. In 2022 alone, there were eight vacancies for roles instrumental to daily library operations. With a total of about 53 SCL workers, the Libraries saw a turnover of nearly 53% of its staff in two years.


This loss of staff directly impacts our ability to fulfill the Libraries’ mission and effectively serve the Smith community. Not addressing these ongoing issues leaves the Libraries with fewer, less experienced employees who cannot glean from the vast institutional knowledge of our departed staff. Those that are left are then spread too thin and unable to dig deeper into a role they want to do well.


It is fair to infer that, if more than half of an organization’s staff departs in two years, there are significant underlying issues that must be addressed. SCLWU members are underpaid, overworked, and lack clarity in our roles. We face inequity in benefits, schedule flexibility, and agency over decisions that fall within our domain. Salaries that do not reflect what our workers wholly deserve, and often do not meet the requirements to live and thrive in the Northampton area, leave our members with no choice but to seek employment elsewhere.


This is the catalyst that prompted SCL workers to unionize, and why we had a unanimous vote—not just in favor of unionizing, but to include all workers under one unit.


As we have said before, organizing a workplace is not a threat or a punishment for Smith management; it’s a statement that we want to continue to work here, and have the vision to create an environment that ensures others will want to work here, too. A union means our staff is committed to serving everyone in the college community—not just the students and faculty, but our fellow workers, too. Just as our patrons expect and deserve a wonderful experience when they walk through our doors, our members expect and deserve a workplace that honors their expertise, treats them with respect, and compensates them accordingly.


It is our intention to bargain for and create a contract that codifies what we know needs to happen to foster a successful work environment. We call on Smith to join us amicably and in good faith on this journey; to treat this process with fairness and timeliness; and to put forth the values the institution markets on its homepage to prospective students: “Generosity is the beginning of incalculable good.” Now is the time to make Smith College a sought-after place to work for all. Thank you.

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