Sno-Isle Libraries employees set to unionize

Sno-Isle Libraries’ Lynnwood branch. (Photo courtesy Sno-Isle Libraries)

Any day now, employees at Sno-Isle Libraries could officially unionize, after years of being one of the only non-unionized library systems in the state.

Sno-Isle Employees United (SILEU)’s petition to organize is pending under the Washington State Public Employment Relations Committee (PERC). They are organizing in affiliation with an existing union, the Association of Federal, State, and City Employees (AFSCME) Council 2, which represents over 16,000 public service employees in Washington State.

SILEU file their paperwork on May 30. This included a petition to organize, along with 11 pages of signed membership cards, each one an employee indicating their support for the union. If PERC verifies that the membership cards represent a majority of eligible Sno-Isle employees, it can officially designate AFSCME Council 2 as Sno-Isle Employees’ legal representative for collective bargaining.

According to Anne Murphy, the Service Programming Coordinator for Sno-Isle Libraries in Marysville, “An overwhelming majority of eligible staff have signed their membership cards, and the number continues to grow.” She added in an email, “Successful certification requires 50% +1 of the total bargaining unit. We filed for certification after bypassing that threshold by a significant amount to ensure success.”

SILEU was notified that their “Card Check date” is any time after July 11. By following the card check process, SILEU is able to bypass an official state-run election that would verify interest in unionizing.

In their letter of intent, Sno-Isle Employees United cite abrupt changes in duties and procedures, lack of transparency, and lack of growth opportunities for employees, among others as their reasons for unionizing. In their list of demands, they seek a remedy to these issues along with inclement weather leave, a grievance procedure for issues of discrimination and harassment, “a hiring plan that prioritizes qualified SIL staff over external candidates,” and protection from termination without cause.

“The existence of a legally binding contract will ensure consistency and provide a means of holding our administration accountable,” Murphy said. “Additionally, the collaborative process of negotiating our contract will give voice to staff and provide representation and the true equity of power sharing.”

Katie Leone is the communications manager for Sno-Isle Libraries. “Sno-Isle Libraries believes in and supports our employees’ legal right to choose whether to form or join a union,” she said in an email. “Unions follow a legal process to form. We will follow the process and build it together.”

Non-supervisory employees make up 385 of Sno-Isle’s 465 employees, according to Leone. Additionally, the average length of time in one position for non-supervisory employees is 5.2 years.

When it came to deciding how to unionize, SILEU could either form an employee-led guild, or join an existing union.

“The choice was easy.” Murphy said. “AFSCME represents libraries across the country, and Council 2 represents most of the public library systems in Washington state. We knew they would understand the issues we face, and both their size and expertise were selling points.”

At the end of May, employees of Sno-Isle libraries spoke at the Sno-Isle Board of Trustees’ monthly meeting. They announced their intent to organize, and why.

“We really want to work with you, and we want to work with you to overcome the entrenched power dynamics that prevent employees from being able to speak to the people in this room,” said Abbey Reveles, one employee, to the Board.

Michael Rainey, executive director of AFSCME Council 2, and resident of Sno-Isle District, spoke alongside the employees in support of their efforts.

“I’ve never met a group of employees that are more committed to the work that they do,” he said of Sno-Isle Employees at the meeting.

Murphy said employees have been quick and eager to move forward with unionizing, since organizing efforts began last fall.

“The members of our organizing committee have spent countless hours of their personal time listening to and talking with their colleagues about the issues that are important to them, and sharing the ways in which our union will benefit everyone,” said. “We’re building relationships and working to ensure our collective voice is truly inclusive of all. The fact that our organizing process has moved as quickly as it has is testament to the enthusiasm of our coworkers and their eagerness to build SILEU together.”

— By Mardy Harding

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