Peoria Public Library, union workers head to mediation after months of no new contract

Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 8:52 PM CDT
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PEORIA (25News Now) - Both the Peoria Public Library and the union representing its works will start mediation Wednesday after many months without an agreement.

AFSCME Local 3464, which represents the library workers, said they started the negotiating process with the library board late last year. The contract officially expired on Jan. 1. Steward and negotiating committee member Gray Baker said there hasn’t been much progress since 25News last covered the negotiations in March.

The rate of pay is the main sticking point for AFSCME 3464. They believe the librarians aren’t being paid what they’re worth. Baker said they make $13.08/hour, pennies above the state minimum wage. The workers tend to have associate, bachelor’s, and even master’s degrees.

After necessary expenses like healthcare benefits come out of that paycheck, there isn’t much left.

“I know of another coworker that literally only eats one meal a day because they can’t afford groceries,” Baker said. “44% of our staff are housing insecure. If their rents go up and there’s not a change in their pay they could lose their homes.”

The union held an information picket Saturday at an event to kick off the summer reading program. According to Baker, workers there couldn’t afford to buy food from the food trucks present for the event.

“It’s like, what a great event, I can’t afford to participate,” Baker said.

Peoria Public Library Executive Director Randall Yelverton declined an on-camera interview but provided the exact same statement he gave 25News in March.

“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 statement read. “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.”

Meeting minutes from the board’s last meeting in April show little details were given on the status of contract negotiations by the board. All they report is that negotiations are ongoing. Details were discussed in an executive session closed to the public.

It’s not unusual to be tight-lipped about union negotiations. Keeping talks out of the public eye and the press is a common practice, to prevent outside influence from impacting negotiations.

The union is also trying to emphasize the importance of libraries in the community. Baker called them a space people could go without having to spend money.

As the weather warms up, they’ve seen plenty of patrons come in to escape the heat. Many people also use the library’s computers and the internet to apply for jobs, do their schoolwork, and other things.