Anne Arundel County Public Library employees are exploring their options after the library’s board of trustees rejected their voluntary request to form a union.

About 380 workers, including building care technicians, library associates, circulations staff and others, have chosen to organize with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) to receive fair wages, a safe work environment and adequate staffing, according to a union spokesperson.

Emma Andrews, a library associate at the Mountain Road Library, said employees are concerned about issues such as inequities in pay that force some to work three jobs; HVAC systems that leave them languishing in heat in the summer months and shivering in the cold come winter; and communication with top administrators.

“A lack of coherent communication between administration and staff has resulted in frequent confusion regarding initiatives, and alienation between departments have caused an extremely deleterious effect on the programming and services we provide to our communities,” Andrews said. “These are issues that our library board and administration have been unable to tackle or solve, and it is clear they need the solidarity of our staff union to help get the job done. We’re here to lend that help. It’s up to them to accept our hand.”

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Chris Nelson, chairman of the library system’s trustees, said the board deeply respects its employees and their desire to organize, but that legal counsel advised that the board doesn’t have authority to accept any petition recognizing a union until enabling legislation is passed at the state level. Trustees rejected the union request on Nov. 16.

“Over the last few years, multiple bills have been introduced in sessions of the Maryland General Assembly that would grant library employees statewide the right to form a union if they so choose,” Nelson said “Despite support from library directors including our own Skip Auld, none of these bills have yet passed. We intend to work with the Maryland Association of Public Library Administrators and other stakeholders on legislation for the 2024 session that would create a thoughtful process for union representation and collective bargaining that will respect the right of employees to decide for themselves whether they wish to be represented by a union. We respect those rights.”

Auld is the CEO of the Anne Arundel County Library system.

Michael E. Busch Annapolis Library
Michael E. Busch Annapolis Library. (Anne Arundel County Public Library)

AFSCME does not agree with the county’s legal interpretation.

“Voluntary recognition is a common and legal practice where an employer realizes or determines that a majority of workers wants a union at their workplace,” a union spokesperson said. “Instead of fighting the will of the workers and trying to ‘break’ the union, employers voluntarily recognize them so that there can be labor peace.”

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Other area library systems, such as Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library, have worked with AFSCME to successfully unionize. Workers at the Howard County Library System recently voted to form a union through AFSCME, too.

Christine Feldman, a spokesperson for the Anne Arundel County Public Library, stressed that other library systems in the state “have some kind of enabling legislation in place.”

“The ability of a county library system to form a union was authorized by state statute for Howard and Baltimore counties and written into the county charter for Prince George’s County,” Feldman said. “Montgomery County Public Library system employees are already deemed county employees and fall under local statutes surrounding collective bargaining. Enoch Pratt Free Library employees are considered Baltimore City employees for the purposes of collective bargaining under that city’s charter.”

County Executive Steuart Pittman voiced support for library system employees this week, telling the Capital Gazette: “If library staff choose to organize a union, I trust that the library board and leadership will cooperate fully. If state authorization is required, I will support legislation to grant workers collective bargaining rights.”

County Executive Steuart Pittman, Ann Arundel department of Health and the Ann Arundel County Public library announce a pilot program to help reduce gun-related incidents and deaths on April 13, 2023.
County Executive Steuart Pittman is shown at a news briefing in April 2023. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

AACL employees and AFSCME said they are not giving up on unionizing efforts.

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“We are meeting with library leadership in the coming weeks to discuss the path forward,” a union spokesperson said. “There are several alternate routes to legislation to recognize the employees’ union at AACPL. At Enoch Pratt Free Library, their library leadership signed a neutral third-party election agreement last year allowing their employees to swiftly unionize via a union election.”

In a separate matter, part-time faculty members at Anne Arundel Community College recently voted to be represented by SEIU Local 500, according to the government employees union.

“Our unionization presents an opportunity for the school to be a leader in the state and to show its true commitment to the majority faculty who are adjuncts,” said Linda Neuman, an adjunct faculty member in continuing education, according to a Monday news release. “Members of the adjuncts organizing community are thrilled to see the results of today’s election and look forward to starting respectful and productive negotiations with the college, which we hope start very soon.”

The community college system did not respond to requests for comment.