Howard County Library System workers have voted overwhelmingly to form a union and join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, union officials announced Thursday.

The four-day vote, which ended Thursday, was 151 to 19.

The union will represent more than 200 Howard County public library employees across the system’s seven branches.

Library employees formed the union so they could have a voice in the decision-making process, receive fair wages and have better job protection, reasonable schedules, adequate staffing, paths to promotion and a safe work environment, according to an AFSCME news release.

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“To me, one of the biggest impacts I’m hoping the union will have is improving communication,” said Eliana Holgate, a children’s instructor and research specialist. “It feels like there’s a disconnect between our leadership and the staff facing the community in the branches. We want our voices to be heard in the decision-making process and better understand decisions made that aren’t explained to staff. We want all staff to be safe and supported.”

Holgate, who has worked in the library system for 7 1/2 years, said she voted yes to forming a union because she wants to be sure she and her colleagues are equipped to do their jobs.

Workers first announced they wanted to unionize in October, and they worked with the Board of Library Trustees to set the election date, said Stuart Katzenberg, director of growth and collective bargaining for AFSCME Council 3.

In 2013, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation allowing Howard County library employees to collectively bargain if they chose to do so.

“We are so pleased that our employees have the right to unionize under legislation passed in 2013,” Tonya Aikens, president and CEO of the Howard County Library System. “They exercised that right in elections held this week. We look forward to working with AFSCME to benefit our team and our community.”

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Librarians in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have formed unions.

In November, Anne Arundel County library employees sought to unionize with AFSCME, citing a desire for fair wages, a safe work environment and adequate staffing.

The request was rejected by the board of trustees for that county’s library system. Board Chairman Chris Nelson said the board did not have authority to accept any petition recognizing a union until enabling legislation for Anne Arundel was passed at the state level.

As a public service worker who interacts with the community, Holgate said, she’s faced various challenges with customers and the physical library buildings that have made it harder for her to do her job. The union, she said, will help her advocate to have a stronger voice to get the resources she and her colleagues need.

“I’m just really proud of my co-workers,” she said. “It took a lot of group effort to get to this point, and you can see how important it was to so many of us to have this voice by the overwhelming majority that voted yes. We’re really excited.”

Abby Zimmardi is a reporter covering Howard County for The Baltimore Banner. Zimmardi earned her master’s degree from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism in December 2022.

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