UW Librarians hold 1-day strike, demand higher wages

Librarians and employees of the University of Washington Libraries and Press held a one-day strike on Thursday, demanding higher wages and better working conditions as union contract negotiations with university administration continue.

More than 100 picketers rallied outside the steps of Suzzallo Library, handing out flyers and marching around the main campus throughout the morning and afternoon.

“We’re woefully underpaid. We’re woefully underprotected in hazard situations in light of COVID. We’re also not respected,” Anne Pepitone, the head of the UW’s Integrated Library Systems, said on Thursday. “We’ve dealt with bullying and intimidation for years that hasn’t been addressed, and (we are) asking for better protections for that.”

Last year, about 125 librarians and employees joined Service Employees International Union Local 925. Since then, contract negotiations have been ongoing. Union members claim they haven’t gone far.

Librarians and staff members on the picket lines said Thursday’s strike was a breaking point.

“We’re just doing one day (of striking) because we’re still in bargaining with the UW,” Danielle Rowland, a librarian at UW Bothell, said. “I personally have had several colleagues leave the UW to go work for community and technical colleges because they make $20,000 a year more as soon as they transfer. And that’s for a nine-month contract. We’re on 12-month contracts. We are some of the lowest-paid academic librarians in the state, and we can’t keep people. We especially can’t keep BIPOC (librarians), and that is the kind of staff that we’d really like to recruit. If we could pay better, more people would come and more people would stay.”

In response to the strike and union demands, Victor Balta, the UW’s senior director of media relations, sent KIRO 7 the following statement:

“The University of Washington values and respects our library personnel and we are surprised by the decision to strike for one day while we are in the midst of good-faith negotiations. There have been 26 negotiation sessions, with the next scheduled for Oct. 20. There is considerable distance between the UW and some of the union’s proposals — including a 16.5% total salary increase and changing the definition of a full-time work week to 30 hours. The UW will continue to negotiate in good faith to reach a fair agreement.”

Balta also stated the university has “requested formal mediation.”

Multiple librarians on the union’s bargaining team claim they never knew formal mediation was requested by the university until they were told by KIRO 7.

In response to the statement by the UW stating librarians are pushing for a 30-hour workweek, Rowland claims that isn’t entirely true.

“We’re asking for a 30-hour workweek as backup, basically, because we don’t think that they are going to give us the raises that we need,” she said.

“We have not heard back at the bargaining table,” Jason Sokoloff, head of the UW’s Foster Business Library, said on Thursday.

Sokoloff, who is on the bargaining team, claims his team hasn’t received a response regarding its initial salary proposal. That proposal was shared two months ago, according to Sokoloff.

“They can say that they’re willing to negotiate. They have not shown evidence of negotiating at the bargaining table, where that’s the only place it really matters. It doesn’t matter what they tell the media,” Sokoloff said. “On the issue of compensation, they have not negotiated anything. We have been actively engaged in negotiating parts of our contract. I won’t say that they haven’t been completely inactive on all issues, but on the issues that are most important to us. We’re reaching a point where unless we know where they stand on those big issues of compensation, promotion and equity, it’s hard to continue.”

When asked about the demands of a 16.5% salary increase, Sokoloff called it “an overstatement, a generalization.”

“We are not looking for everyone in our department to have a 16% raise. We are looking for fair and equitable pay structures,” Sokoloff said. “I don’t think I’m getting 16% ‘cause I’m already at a higher level.”

“One of my coworkers makes $60,000 a year after working 14 years at UW. That’s $10,000 less than me, just because I’m a librarian and she’s professional staff,” Rowland said. “I want her to make more money. I want all of us to make more money. We need to have more sustainable income.”

In terms of operations at university libraries, Balta said services were expected to continue without much interruption on Thursday.

“It is possible that some librarians will not be available on-site for consultations, and other services, but those with planned appointments would communicate any change of plan to users individually. We will assess throughout the day, but we expect to be able to sustain operations at a basic level,” Balta wrote.

The one-day strike was set to conclude around 5 p.m. on Thursday. Librarians and staff said union members will consider voting on a potential, longer strike as negotiations continue.