Northwestern University Library Workers Union seeks formal recognition


Nick Francis/Daily Senior Staffer

Deering Library. Librarians say 1 in 5 library workers were furloughed during the pandemic.

Isabel Funk, Assistant Campus Editor

After more than a year of private deliberation, Northwestern’s library workers publicly announced their unionization Tuesday and are asking the University for formal recognition.

The Northwestern University Library Workers Union seeks to represent more than 130 NU workers. The union formed in connection with SEIU Local 73, which represents public service workers in Illinois and Northwest Indiana. 

Library Assistant Drew Clower, a member of the organizing committee, said he was pushed to act by University’s pandemic austerity measures. Library workers lost retirement benefits and faced layoffs, and the University furloughed a disproportionate number of library workers compared to other NU employees — librarians say 1 in 5 library workers were furloughed. 

“It’s absolutely a wonderful experience to come together with your colleagues,” Clower said. “It really connects us better to the work that we do, and it provides us with an opportunity to rethink the way that services evolve as we ask for a say in the decisions that affect us.”

As part of its public announcement, the union delivered a petition to Provost Kathleen Hagerty’s office and began the process to formally apply with the National Labor Relations Board. 

If the University voluntarily recognizes the union, the two bodies can start negotiations, SEIU Local 73 communications specialist Adrian Rojas said. If NU does not voluntarily recognize the union, the two parties will go to a hearing arbited by the NLRB until they reach a decision about the union’s recognition.

“These librarians are there answering questions day and night, they’re helping students and visitors alike,” Rojas said. “For them to finally have some sort of structure in order to really fight for themselves is going to go a long way for them.”

Library workers started to work toward unionization in spring 2020, according to Jill Waycie, an archival processing specialist and member of the organizing committee. 

“We have a really strong community of supporters of the library, and I’m really excited to move forward and be able to accomplish this win,” Waycie said.

Metadata librarian and member of the organizing committee Michael Babinec said he wants the University to voluntarily respect the librarians’ right to form a union. 

He added he hopes unionization will help the workers sustain a more transparent and cooperative relationship with NU.

“The way they chose to furlough and lay off people was really motivating for me because it was discouraging,” Babinec said. “The fact that the University found a (budget) surplus in the end, it just made it more of a shame that while our furloughed colleagues are back, people who were laid off are not.”

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