A majority of Baltimore County Public Library employees have voted to unionize and join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
The election tees up employees’ collective bargaining negotiations with library management, which must be resolved by March 1 under county law.
About 65% of the library system’s 460 staffers submitted mail-in ballots that were tallied last week. More than three-fourths of those part-time and full-time staffers across the county’s 19 library branches voted in favor of organizing a labor union.
Union organizers said the effort was fueled by a lack of communication from library management and weak health care benefits for part-time employees, who make up half the library’s staff.
“We need a system in place to protect and support each other and a legally binding contract will give us that,” said Anita Bass, a circulation assistant at the Essex branch, in a statement.
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The vote comes after years of organizing, said Bridget Fitzgerald, the lead union organizer on the campaign. The machinists union, which represents almost 650,000 employees across 200 industries, successfully lobbied for state legislation to enable the county’s library staff to collectively bargain; Baltimore County Democrats Del. Cathi Forbes and Sen. Shelly Hettleman sponsored the bills, which passed last year by a 99-38 House vote and went into effect without Hogan’s signature.
Jaimie Caldwell, a librarian at the Parkville branch, said she supported the union campaign partly out of concern for her part-time colleagues, who do not receive pension contributions, dental or health care coverage through the library system. Their benefits include accrued sick leave and two paid holidays.
“My goal is to see that all the part-time employees have the option to opt into the pension system,” Caldwell said. “And especially during the pandemic, part-time workers need access to health care.”
Since the 2020 legislation enabling library staff to pursue collective bargaining, Fitzgerald said employees at a handful of other Maryland libraries have expressed interest in unionizing.
“Particularly with COVID, workplace safety concerns have become an issue we maybe didn’t see as strongly before,” Fitzgerald said. “Many employees are looking to have a say in the decision-making process … For some, quite frankly, it is an economic issue.”
Baltimore County’s library staff is poised to join those in Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties who have been granted the right to form a union by state law. Howard County’s union has yet to organize.
Librarians at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore City are members of unions representing city workers, a system spokeswoman said.