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Metro Council signs off on new union contract for library workers

The 40,000 square foot Northeast Regional Library is one of the newer facilities in the Louisville Free Public Library system.
J. Tyler Franklin
The 40,000 square foot Northeast Regional Library is one of the newer facilities in the Louisville Free Public Library system.

Metro Council passed a resolution Thursday, ratifying and approving a new contract between Metro Government and AFSCME Local 3425, the union that represents many Louisville Free Public Library workers.

LFPL librarian and union head Katherine Skaggs said they “worked out” this version of the collective bargaining agreement by late August after a lengthy negotiation process that kept library staffers working under an expired contract with stagnant pay for years

Skaggs said she’s happy they were able to get a new contract done, and that a majority of union members seemed eager to get the deal over the finish line. 

Of the 130 union members eligible to vote on the new contract, 107 participated, Skaggs said, with the final tally being 95-12 in favor of sending this version to Metro Council. The library system has about 340 total employees, including part-time and non-union workers, said LFPL director Lee Burchfield.

Burchfield told WFPL News he believes they “ended up with a great contract for our employees and for Metro.”

Improved pay had been a priority for union leadership, and the updated terms include a 2% annual raise for union workers. 

Skaggs and other union representatives, however, had hoped for better base pay for LFPL workers. 

“Of course, we wish that we had been able to get more for our workers,” Skaggs said. “But it was very clear to us that Metro was working with a very restricted budget for the library, and they were up against a wall where they could not get us more.” 

Still, there were several little victories, Skaggs said, explaining that she’s pleased with the “small steps across the board in different directions toward at least having better policies.” 

One of those wins was working out a new system to schedule Sunday work shifts. 

Skaggs said people with less seniority were taking the brunt of Sunday workloads and she hopes the new policy will keep the rotation “more equitable and better distributed” to help prevent worker burnout. 

A continued point of soreness for the union was the policy around funeral leave. 

Skaggs said they did move “in the right direction,” expanding eligibility in terms of the kinds of relationships that would grant a person time off to attend the funeral of someone close to them. 

“But it is still called funeral leave,” she continued, concerned that the label is exclusionary to those whose religious practices don’t include a funeral or for those grieving but not attending a service. 

She said "bereavement leave" would have been a more inclusive term to use.

“That was a large part of the discussion around that, and that I wish had been locked down a lot better,” she said.

“One of the things I think our union leadership sort of struggles with is the fact that the Labor Relations Committee for Metro Government is negotiating a contract with the library, but they need those contracts to align with the benefits that are extended to Metro Government employees across the board,” Burchfield said.

He said those employees would qualify for funeral leave, and he felt that the “union membership’s expectations for that benefit” were met.

But the new contract’s language says full-time workers may be compensated for up to “three consecutive workdays, one of which must include the funeral… Funeral leave will not extend beyond the day after the funeral.” Part-time members can receive up to eight hours of leave, according to the new contract.

It defines a funeral “as any event in which a deceased person is grieved or honored,” and states that workers might be required to show “proof of the need” to take such leave.

This contract is set to expire June 30, 2025, and union leaders are already thinking about future contract negotiation. Pay and salary continue to be top of mind, said Skaggs. She believes LFPL employees deserve and need higher wages.  

“And it was just very clear, to me at least, and I think to everyone else involved that we really need a library administration who is able to advocate for the full budget that the library deserves because I think that has not happened,” she said. 

In May, some Metro Council members, including Anthony Piagentini, a Republican who represents District 19, said he would have liked to see Burchfield present a bolder proposal to the council’s Budget Committee.

“We're waiving late fees, and I support that. That's terrific,” Piagentini said. “But to me that's dancing around the edges here. We have been asking, and I think pretty consistently in a bipartisan way, for a bold library plan. We believe this is critical, built infrastructure and critical infrastructure for lifelong learning for our residents.”

Burchfield agrees that library workers should get paid more, and pushed back against criticism that he isn’t advocating for the system or thinking boldly about it.

“Everyday I advocate for a larger budget and more funding for the public library,” Burchfield said. 

He added that “it's particularly frustrating” to hear this feedback from Metro Council members who opposed a 2019 tax plan the Mayor has proposed to offset budget constraints driven by the city’s pension obligation. Burchfield said some of those tax dollars could have helped LFPL.

Metro Council did make changes to the 2022 fiscal year budget that redirected funds to public libraries in the city. But that money is earmarked for capital improvements and reopenings at three branches: Fern Creek, Portland and Parkland. 

Burchfield said, “part of the reality of being a public library funded out of General Fund revenues” rather than with the help of a special tax or tax district, is that there will often be budget constraints. 

Louisville Metro has to balance its budget, so the library is competing for the same funds as other Metro departments, Burchfield said. 

Skaggs, the librarian, thinks this is a challenge Louisvillians should care deeply about.

“If we value the library system, we need to show that we do,” Skaggs added. “And put our money where our mouth is as a community.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the total number of Louisville Free Public Library employees.