[ Fighting for you ]

Long Island library staffers affiliate with NYSUT


group of over 80 library professionals said “yes!” to the union this November on Long Island. NYSUT won voluntary recognition for staffers at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in East Setauket in Suffolk County after a whirlwind organizing campaign. It began in mid-September when NYSUT organizers visited the library to gauge staff interest in forming a union. And it ended in early November when the library’s board of directors voluntarily recognized the local after a supermajority of staff signed union cards.

Colin Kasprowicz, the library’s head of technical services and a member of the organizing committee, said “this was the right time” to unionize, noting that attempts over the last 40 years have been unsuccessful. “But we have a younger staff, and we’re living in a period of American history where unions are viewed positively. There’s lots of media coverage about union strikes and people organizing to fight for fair wages and working conditions.”

But most of all, Kasprowicz continued, the staff wants to preserve what they already have. “Over the last 20 years, our administration and board of directors have worked with us to improve working conditions, benefits and pay,” he said. “This is the time to lock in what we’ve earned and deserve … and lay a foundation for future generations of staff.”

group photo of four members from the Emma Clark organization committee; from left, Emily Ostrander, Bob Johnson, Emily Adams and Colin Kasprowicz

From left, Emily Ostrander, Bob Johnson, Emily Adams and Colin Kasprowicz, four members of the Emma Clark organizing committee.

NYSUT organizers Amy Solar-Greco and Joan Crinnion led the unionization effort, working with Kasprowicz and a core group of library staffers to organize support. “When we organize, we look for 10 percent of the bargaining unit to be on the organizing committee,” said Solar-Greco, explaining that it allows each committee member to speak with 10 potential union members about signing union cards and, in this case, a vision statement detailing why they want to unionize. Before distributing union cards the goal is to have a “70 percent supermajority to buffer against anti-union campaigns,” although the library’s management did not interfere with the organizing process or run an anti-union campaign.

October was spent hosting informational meetings and one-to-one conversations, detailing what forming a union entails and the benefits of being a NYSUT affiliate.

In early November, after getting a supermajority of cards and vision statements signed, organizers approached Emma S. Clark’s director and library board and asked for voluntary recognition. Board members voted 7-to-2 in favor of recognizing the new unit, Emma S. Clark United.

The vote was no surprise to staff, said Kasprowicz. “We have lots of respect between the board, staff and director,” he said. “When we sit at the bargaining table, we want to make decisions that reflect [the wishes of] and make improvements for everyone on staff.”

“In an era of book banning attempts and loss of academic freedoms, library staffers recognize that it’s important to protect their workplace rights,” said Mike Deely, NYSUT director of membership growth and organizing, noting that NYSUT is working hard to create opportunities for workers to organize, including public and private library staffers. Chief concerns for many library staff include paid leave, sick time, and a grievance and just cause procedure for discipline and disputes for both full- and part-time staff. Library workers often spend years developing collections and programming to benefit their communities. But without a contract, many can be fired at-will for any reason including advocating for unpopular opinions.

“If you know someone who’s interested in forming a union, contact NYSUT Organizing for information,” said Deely.

What do we want? UNION!
When do we want it? NOW!

2023 has seen a resurgence in labor activity nationwide, from new unions being formed, to strikes, to using the threat of strikes to get a better contract.

Support for labor unions is at its highest point in more than 50 years — 71 percent of Americans approve of labor unions. That marks the highest approval rating since the mid-1960s according to Gallup. And while union membership nationwide was just over 10 percent in 2021 — down from around 20 percent in the early 1980s — more and more workers are looking to join unions.

And it isn’t just those in unions who see the value of them. Young workers in Gen Z are the most pro-union generation in the country right now, according to the Center for American Progress. Young people have shown they are willing to fight for better working conditions and pay for themselves and others, and are looking to improve things not only for themselves, but for those who come after them as well.

While national stories dominated headlines this year, NYSUT has also been supporting labor actions close to home and continuing to fight for our members — and answering the call to those workers seeking union representation. As more workers across the state are demanding a voice on the job, NYSUT is engaged in a renewed effort to organize new unions.

If you know someone who’s interested in forming a union, contact nysut.org/organize for more information.