Standing-room only at Peoria Public Library Board meeting as union demands higher pay

Published: Feb. 21, 2023 at 10:07 PM CST
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PEORIA (25 News Now) - As 2022 ended, so did the contract for Peoria Public Library employees.

Now, they’re negotiating for better pay as they made their voices heard at a Tuesday night’s board meeting.

“We want to be able to work here. We don’t want to be forced to find a job somewhere else because we can’t afford to work here,” said Karla Wilkinson, programming librarian and union steward for Peoria Public Library employees.

More than 50 employees and supporters showed up at Tuesday night’s public library board meeting. They want to stay at the library, but they want fair wages.

“An unacceptable number of employees are on some sort of government assistance. For us, one employee on government assistance is unacceptable, but it’s more than one,” said Wilkinson.

Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) have been working for almost two months under an expired contract. Wilkinson says they’re asking for better wages and benefits, including more time off.

“(The job) It’s more than just punching in and manning a counter and then going home,” said Wilkinson.

Wilkinson says they love serving their community, providing resources like early childhood education, books for nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

She compares the job to a social worker and not unskilled labor.

“We provide extracurricular activities for kids after school, we provide kits for kids to do in school,” continued Wilkinson, “We’ll help you find a job; we’ll help you with your resume. We’re a warming center when it gets really cold.”

Library assistant and union steward, Rose Farrell, also spoke to the board.

“Good luck running the library as the patrons know it with a shrinking staff. Sacrifices will occur in programming, staff desk, telephone assistance, outreach services and many other vital departments,” said Farrell.

Peoria Public Library Executive Director Randall Yelverton provided the following statement:

“The Library and AFSCME have enjoyed a long history of respectful and productive negotiations and will continue to do so as the parties bargain this contract. The Library and its employees, like many businesses, entities and individuals, have felt the strain of inflation and the rising cost of living in a post-pandemic world. While the Library cannot comment on the status of ongoing negotiations, it looks forward to reaching a mutually beneficial agreement that will allow the Library to continue to offer all the same excellent services and programming that our community has come to expect and enjoy.”

Wilkinson says negotiations are scheduled for the first week of March. She says they do not want to strike, but they are motivated to get a fair wage.

“We’re not encouraged, by what we’re hearing, that it’s going to be over anytime soon,” said Wilkinson.