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Smith College Libraries Workers Vote Unanimously in Favor of Unionizing with OPEIU Local 153

On Tuesday, April 9—National Library Workers Day—the library workers at Smith College won their NLRB election, voting unanimously (26-0) in favor of unionizing with OPEIU Local 153. This election win comes almost exactly one month after the public announcement of their campaign on Friday, March 8, when workers delivered a letter to the College President and Board of Trustees announcing their union and requesting voluntary recognition. They were denied voluntary recognition and thus proceeded to an election. This newly-formed union, known as the Smith College Libraries Workers Union (SCLWU), is affiliated with the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153. 

The library workers of SCLWU-OPEIU 153 are the latest to unionize in a wave of worker organizing hitting Smith College campus. They are the third group to win a union election at the college in the past 5 months, following the student residence life workers in December 2023 and the student dining workers in February 2024. 

“The results of this election affirm what we as library staff already know: when we come together and connect, we find common ground as individuals, employees, and representatives of Smith College. Today we voted in support of one another and recognized the intrinsic value we all bring to our roles in the Smith College Libraries,” says Esther Roth-Katz, Social Sciences Librarian & Learning Commons Program Manager.

The unionization efforts were largely spurred by the tremendous amounts of work the staff at Smith College Libraries (SCL) have shouldered over the past years, including extraordinary efforts to keep the libraries functioning through the early days of the pandemic, despite low staffing and high turnover. Some positions have been open for months or years, while others have been filled multiple times. According to these workers, the continued loss of staff and of institutional knowledge consumes time and effort, all the while impacting SCL’s ability to fulfill its mission and effectively serve the Smith community.

“I am excited for the Smith College Libraries Workers Union because it will help us address difficulties that hinder the Libraries’ mission and work on concrete solutions together,” says Micah Walter, a web services librarian. “Recruitment and retention are examples of problems that have challenged us over the past few years, and where the ideas and input of all our staff will make a real difference. Our union will give everyone the security we need in order to share our ideas without fear. It will also give us legal standing with the college to bargain for the wages, staffing, training and job clarity we need in order to best support the Smith community that we love.” Jessica Ryan, Scholarly Communications Librarian, adds, “I love voting in general, but to cast my vote for this union, with my colleagues on Library Workers Day no less, is so exciting. It has been an overwhelmingly positive project that has really brought us together, feeling excited for the future of our work together!”

SCLWU cites inadequate compensation, insufficient training, unclear decision-making processes, not enough full-time exempt (FTE) positions, lack of worker agency, job creep, and limited growth opportunities as issues that spurred their organizing efforts. To address these issues, they have laid out a clear set of union demands, including cost of living (COLA) adjustments and better pay, clear job descriptions, a grievance and arbitration system, compensation for those taking on extra job duties created by vacancies, clear promotion and growth pathways, and a collective voice in their workplace.

“Organizing this union has been such a rewarding experience, and I’m so grateful we can move onto the next step in the process,” says Xochitl Quiroz, the First Years’ Engagement and Humanities Librarian. “Throughout these last few months we’ve had the chance to build and strengthen relationships across the library and really hear each other out about what we’ve been experiencing. Now we can lean on those relationships and conversations to start bargaining for a contract that benefits us all which is just so exciting!”

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