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Louisville library union pushes for Metro Council support over workplace safety concerns

LFPL leaders plan to make exterior renovations to downtown's Main Library.
Jacob Munoz
The union for Louisville Free Public Library staff is pushing for safety improvements at city libraries.

Katherine Skaggs, president of AFSCME Local 3425, asked Metro Council members Thursday to increase funding for library security and staff pay.

As city budget discussions proceed, the union representing Louisville librarians is petitioning elected officials to help them secure resources they say library leadership has not provided.

Skaggs told council members that Louisville Free Public Library staff have dealt with stalking, assault, mistreatment by superiors and other incidents in recent months, and that they aren’t paid enough.

“The risk-reward calculation has proven too much for many of my coworkers to remain. Feelings of public goodwill, and the joy of helping the public, can only go so far,” Skaggs said.

She added that the union and LFPL workers have for several years raised those problems to library administrators, but said their concerns were dismissed.

Union members have ideas about how to improve safety at city libraries.

In a press release, they recommended increasing the number of security guards and giving them de-escalation training, setting longer bans for patrons who sexually harass workers and having library administrators hold debriefing sessions with staff after serious incidents.

During a rally before the Metro Council meeting on Thursday, Skaggs said the Shawnee branch — where she works — and others in underserved communities have had the most safety incidents.

“It comes down to investment, I think. There's a wide disparity between resources allocated to different branches and the will to fill open positions,” she said.

AFSCME Local 3425 president Katherine Skaggs leads a group of librarians and union supporters in a rally outside City Hall Thursday.
Jacob Munoz
AFSCME Local 3425 president Katherine Skaggs leads a group of librarians and union supporters in a rally outside City Hall Thursday.

A spokesperson for the library administration declined to comment on the union’s statements.

Nicole George is the deputy mayor for public health and services and oversees the library system. She met with Skaggs on Monday to discuss the union’s concerns, and provided a statement Thursday.

“We recognize the team members’ concerns, which is why we’ve taken action, hiring a new security firm, installing new cameras, and implementing new incident tracking software all in the past four months,” she said.

Kevin Trager, a spokesperson for Mayor Craig Greenberg’s office, clarified Friday that the incident tracker is “currently undergoing beta testing” and is not yet complete. He said staff would be trained to use it.

Skaggs said she asked library administration for a tracker more than three years ago, and alleged they rejected the idea.

LFPL Director Lee Burchfield told WHAS11 in January that a bid for contractors to develop a new library website included an incident tracker.

Scott Reed, a District 16 Republican, is vice chair on the council’s public safety committee. He said while he hasn’t had specific discussions with members of the library system, he’s open to providing funding for the union’s suggestions through the budget.

“The safety of workers, I think that’s something that needs to be looked at. That’s, to me, the primary responsibility of what we can provide for them,” Reed said.

Linda Thomas works at LFPL’s Highlands-Shelby Park branch and attended Thursday’s rally as a union member.

She said she’s worked in the libraries for more than 10 years, and while incidents have always occurred, there’s been an uptick in the past few years.

“We've had occasional patrons who have screamed and threatened violence,” Thomas said. “Sometimes we've had to call the police. It can be very scary. Because you wonder, ‘Is this the time they'll go quietly? Or is this the time they're going to go after one of us?’”

Mayor Craig Greenberg’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes about $24.5 million for the free public library system. Metro Council members are now in control of the process and will pass a final budget next month.

Jacob is LPM's Business and Development Reporter. Email Jacob at jmunoz@lpm.org.