After 15 months of negotiations, the UW Libraries Union at SEIU 925 began on Feb. 1, 2023.
Feb 20, 2023 Correction: The subhead was corrected from "After 4 years of negotations..." to 15 months and an attribution was corrected (from Petrich to Gregory in paragraph 15.
An agreement between the UW Librarians Union at SEIU 925 and UW has been made. Since 2021, the union bargaining team, representing librarians and professional staff of UW Libraries and UW Press, has presented union contract proposals to the UW institution bargaining team in pursuit of an agreed union contract.
Both the university and the union have bargaining teams in charge of negotiations. After extended periods of time with little to no response from the UW bargaining team, representatives from the union team, valuing the necessity of an agreement, set a deadline to have a finalized contract by 8:00 a.m. on January 25, 2023. If an agreed contract was not made by that time, the union team planned a full strike, one without a set end date, to occur immediately after this time.
At 5:30 a.m. on January 25, after a consecutive 21-hour negotiation session between the union’s bargaining team and UW bargaining team, it was announced that a union contract agreement had been reached.
“No one wanted to strike,” Marisa Petrich, Instructional Design Librarian at UWT Library, said, “But we were ready to go. We had spent weeks to plan to strike. We knew where our picket lines were. We planned to be out there 7-10 days, but we were ready to go longer if needed.”
Unionization efforts began in 2019 when librarians from the UW Bothell campus initiated efforts to form a union. In June of 2021, librarians and professional staff of UW Libraries and the UW Press won Washington state union recognition.
A year later, to mark the one-year anniversary of state recognition, librarians and professional staff of UW Libraries, the UW Press and their supporters put on a one-day strike in October 2022. That same month, the UW Libraries Union bargaining team began bargaining efforts with the UW bargaining team. Negotiations continued until late January 2023.
“There was a lot of passion behind (negotiation efforts) and we’re really really proud of the final union negotiating team. They spent that full 21 hours negotiating. It’s an incredibly impressive feat and we’re all so thankful and grateful to them for this very hard and necessary work,” said Megan Elizabeth Gregory, Learning Commons & Access Services Manager at UWT.
After the contract was agreed upon, the strike turned, instead, to a rally in celebration of the end of a long-term fight for equity for librarians and professional staff of UW Libraries and the UW Press.
“There were not always responses (from the UW bargaining team) but in that final session to get our contract solidified, there was so much power behind the (Union bargaining team) doing the work and that was just really impressive,” Gregory said.
On January 31, union members voted to approve the contract proposal resulting in a 99.3% approval and putting the contract into effect on February 1, 2023.
“This contract will last four years. One of my biggest takeaways is feeling optimistic because there was a lot more that we wanted to accomplish, particularly in terms of equity and parity between librarians and professional staff colleagues, and I’m feeling really hopeful about our ability to go even further with that with our next contract,” Petrich said.
In a letter to supporters, the UW Libraries Union at SEIU 925 explained, in addition to other benefits, UW librarians will receive at least a 13.5% increase over the three-year contract. Professional Libraries and Press Employees will receive at least a 14.25% increase and “the lowest paid groups” will receive 18-22% increase over the three-year contract.
Also in their letter, the UW Libraries Union at SEIU 925 said “We are proud of what we have accomplished and believe it to be the start of our journey to make the UW Libraries and Press live its mission. This would not have been possible without the support and solidarity from the larger UW Community! Thanks to organizing together, we were able to win a contract that respects our work with significant increases, codifies anti-racism language, and meaningfully addresses the inequities amongst pro-staff and librarians.”
“There were a lot of congratulations from our other union staff members, who are in other unions. There was a lot of solidarity and excitement, and it was very appreciated. Cake was consumed. That was the fun part. The sort of chant we were all listening to before the decision that day was ‘when we fight, we win.’ That’s how unions are, when you do it, you get better than you would have had before.” Gregory said, reflecting on January 25.
“One of the biggest things for me was, with the formation of the UW Libraries Union, it felt like us versus them with the University of Washington. But the thing is, we are the University of Washington. We as staff are what the university is. Our students, our staff, our faculty, it’s not an us versus them. It’s supporting within,” Gregory said.
A documentary about the labor movement that was the catalyst for SEIU 925 being formed, is available on Netflix. It is titled 9to5: The Story of a Movement.For questions or to learn more, contact the UW Libraries Union at SEIU 925 at UWLibrariesUnionOC@gmail.com