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Daniel Boone Regional Library workers vote to unionize

Meiying Wu

Workers at Daniel Boone Regional Library made state history on Monday, becoming the first library staff to unionize in Missouri.

The results of the vote showed 101 employees in favor of unionizing to 55 opposed, for 65% approval, per the Missouri State Board of Mediation. The approval of the motion to unionize under the name DBRLWorkersUnited was acknowledged in a news release from the Daniel Boone Regional Library early Monday.

The library employees covered by the union will be represented by the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME.

The vote was conducted online by the State Board of Remediation from May 18 to May 21. All votes were cast double-blind, which meant neither the library nor union organizers could see who voted for what.

“The library’s employees are a very important part of the services we provide our community and job satisfaction has always been important to us,” said Margaret Conroy, executive director of the Daniel Boone Regional Library, in the release. “We are looking forward to learning more about their specific concerns through the bargaining process.”

The library must now negotiate a contract with the new union's bargaining unit.

Patrick Johnson has worked in the circulation office at Daniel Boone Regional Library for nine years, and has been involved with organizing DBRL Worker's United since its first day.

"It's been a long, hard fight," the assistant circulation lead said Monday. "And I'm just so happy to see this outcome."

Johnson adds that next steps for the union include setting up officer elections, conducting a bargaining survey, and setting up a bargaining committee. He says the union will work as fast as it can with the library to set plans in motion.

Conroy says she is happy the issue of unionization is settled, so at least both parties know the way forward. But she notes the decision to unionize does not come without caveats.

"We do have to remember that this was not a 100% endorsement of the union," the executive director said to the Missourian on Monday. "There are a significant portion of our staff who are not in favor of unionization and they will be part of a bargaining unit. So going forward, we have to figure out and they'll have to figure out whether they want to pay dues once the contract is in place."

Johnson hopes that all parties involved can set aside their feelings about the results, and keep the library the best place to be in the community.

"Our union is for everyone," he says. "I know not everyone who voted no is necessarily strongly against our union. I hope they'll come to see that this can be their voice as well in their workplace."

The vote cements a months-long effort to organize the Daniel Boone Regional Library's labor force, which spans four branches and two counties.

"It's been a ride," said DBRL Workers United on Twitter. "We can't thank all of our supporters and community members enough. This solidarity is what makes our community great."

Nearly 50 library workers signed a letter in early February announcing their intent to form a union. The organizers said the decision was made in light of staff turnover and safety concerns emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Daniel Boone Regional Library leadership, while acknowledging their employees' right to organize, denied suggestions of an unsafe workplace. They refused to voluntarily recognize the union at an April meeting after two months of discussions.

That decision set the stage for the vote among employees this past week.

Ida Fogle has worked for 18 years in public services at Daniel Boone Regional Library, and was optimistic for unionization going into the vote. Now that the process is done, she looks forward to working through good-faith negotiations with leadership.

"Everyone who works at the library, no matter how they voted, cares a lot about the community," Fogle says. "Feeling valued and safe and having a voice will only make our work better. We'll be able to serve the community better."

Conroy says she remains surprised by the decision to unionize given leadership wasn't approached over concerns prior.

"[But] I understand sometimes people want more," she said. "And we're looking forward to learning what exactly that is."

No start date or timetable has been set for the negotiations.

The Columbia Missourian is a community news organization managed by professional editors and staffed by Missouri School of Journalism students who do the reporting, design, copy editing, information graphics, photography and multimedia.