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Library doesn't budge in latest union negotiations

Meiying Wu

Daniel Boone Regional Library and its union failed to reach any resolution during Tuesday’s contract bargaining session.

Discussions began on Oct. 3, when Daniel Boone Regional Library Workers United presented an initial 44-page proposal to its management.

On Nov. 29, an agreement was reached on a side letter that increased wages and the library’s health insurance contributions. This came three weeks after the library’s unannounced change in health insurance plans for its employees. Both parties signed the agreement on Tuesday, and it will go into effect Jan. 1.

Tuesday’s meeting covered union communications, dispute resolution and the scope of the bargaining unit.

DBRL management wants prior approval before union members post something on the library’s bulletin board, a rule that would not apply to the rest of the library staff.

Anti-strike language in the contract was a contentious topic during negotiations, particularly in defining what constitutes a strike. The union’s proposal said — in general terms — that they would not engage in a strike. However, the library’s counterproposal included additional terms like sympathy strikes and other forms of protest, expanding the scope of punishable actions.

Executive Director Margaret Conroy voiced concerns about the possibility of a “work slowdown” in place of a strike, and management’s proposal included language to make sure that wouldn’t be allowed.

A “work slowdown,” when employees deliberately do less work in protest, has happened at the library before, about 30 years ago. The library used to require circulation department members to ask for a bathroom pass to use the bathroom, and the slowdown happened when workers protested the policy.

Management’s proposal also mentioned that if the union engages in such unauthorized activities, library leadership would notify the Columbia Daily Tribune and Fulton Sun.

These counterproposals from library administration have not been well-received by union members.

“It feels like attempts to restrict our voice,” Dakota Hommes, executive board member of the union said.

The union feels that it has been proactive in progressing negotiations but is not receiving the same from the other side.

“We’ve been trying to create and establish language that gives way to a productive working relationship between the union and the library, and they are not necessarily interested in that,” Jane Billinger, chief negotiator for the union, said. “They want to maintain some level of control.”

Multiple times during the meeting, library administration asserted that certain counterproposals were their final stances, as far as they are willing to go.

“It doesn’t feel like they’re listening to us,” Billinger said.

The timeline for a final contract agreement is still unclear. Biweekly meetings have been scheduled through the end of May, and it is the union’s goal to come to an agreement as soon as possible.

Daniel Boone Regional Library Workers United, the first library union in the state, formed after a 101-55 employee vote in May. The push to unionize began in February amid staff turnover and COVID-19 concerns when almost 50 workers signed a letter announcing intent to form the union, which now represents between 165 and 170 library employees.

The next session is scheduled for noon on Jan. 10 at the Columbia Public Library.

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.
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