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Homewood library supporters urge board members to settle union contract

A standing-room-only crowd packed the Multipurpose Room at Homewood Public Library on the evening of March 20 for the regular board of directors meeting. 
More than 100 people from Homewood and beyond converged in the space to pressure the board to take action on long-stalled employee union contract negotiations.
“Today I’m requesting simply, settle this union contract. This is absolutely ridiculous,” said Debbie Dennison, a former employee and one of the speakers. 
  Homewood resident Andrew
  Lindstrom spoke
  passionately at a meeting
  of the Homewood Library
  Board of Directors on
  March 20, where about
  100 residents gathered
  to address the issue of library
  staff contract negotiations.

  (Carole Sharwarko/H-F 

The men and women who work at Homewood Public Library are members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union. With help from representatives from AFSCME Council 31, they encouraged Homewood residents to attend the meeting and speak out with their concerns.

About 25 library workers, local residents and area union leaders addressed the board, urging its members to offer what they say workers deserve.
According to Lisa Stilts, lead negotiator for the workers, they haven’t received a pay increase since 2014. Over two years of negotiations, employees have asked for a pay increase and more hours for part-time workers. 
Several employees who were hired for full-time positions later had their hours reduced to part-time. The library currently employs three full-time workers, all administrators. 
“The last time we met, which was in December, we were very close. We presented a package and they indicated that we were moving forward,” Stilts said. “Ten weeks later, on Feb. 25, they said, ‘Nope, we can’t afford it.’”
Since Stilts said the board reneged in its intent to settle, its members have been silent about how to move forward. The union decided to speak out at the board meeting as a way to break the impasse.
It’s not clear whether its effort succeeded in moving the board. Throughout anecdotes, accusations, impassioned pleas, calls to spend money properly and respect employees appropriately, board members mostly remained expressionless.
“A library isn’t made of bricks; it’s made of staff,” said library employee Kelly Campos in a fiery prepared address, which the board did not interrupt after it extended far beyond her allotted two minutes. 
Campos ticked off the ways each staff member helps the community. At the end, she received a standing ovation from many in the crowd.
One by one, others described the library’s role in their lives and admonished the board for variously not valuing its staff, a reduction in hours and benefits, taking too long to settle a contract and offering silence in the face of questions. 
Some speakers were critical of Amy Crump, the former director, who left the library in December.
Many people said they thought the once-vibrant library has gone downhill, with a lack of new materials caused by an ordering freeze and poor employee morale due to recent problems.
Members of the board did not comment immediately following the meeting but they offered the following statement later that evening.
“In accordance with good faith bargaining procedures, the board will not negotiate this contract in public.
“We will uphold our responsibility to protect the interest of the library, the staff and the community it serves.
“We encourage the staff, union representatives and community not to put stock in rumors or misinformation during a process that should be deliberate and which all concerned, including the board, hopes reaches a speedy conclusion.
“We would also like to share that we as board members are also members of this community and we love our library and our wonderful staff as much as you do.”
[Story updated at 9:15 a.m. Saturday.]

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