Peoria library workers enter mediation
Picket at the Peoria North Library branch. | AFSCME Local 3464 Facebook page

PEORIA, Ill. – “They won’t even make eye contact with us” Spencer Kelly, a Library Assistant, describes the response workers receive during public comment at the Peoria Public Library Board of Trustees meetings.

Kelly has been a front-line worker at the Lakeview Branch Library since 2020. They are jacks-of-all-trades handling card applications, programming, book repairs, and helping out wherever their understaffed library needs them. Kelly believes everyone likes to read something. Their favorite part of their job is helping patrons find that special genre of books that they can fall in love with.

Even though Kelly has 5 years of library experience, a Library Technical Assistant Associates Degree, and a job overburdened with the responsibilities of multiple positions, they only receive the state’s minimum wage of $13 an hour. Many workers, including Kelly, are getting to the point where they can no longer afford to work at the library.

Represented by AFSCME Local 3464, library workers have been fighting for a fair contract since their last contract expired on Jan. 1. Month after month, the Board of Trustees meetings have been packed with workers clad in their union’s green t-shirts as they expose the poor working conditions and unjust wages the Peoria Public Library offers.

Disgusted by treatment

Disgusted by the treatment of library workers, patrons started to take action themselves. Over 40 handwritten letters and about 1,200 online emails were sent to the library Board of Trustees and Peoria City Council calling for an equitable agreement.

Despite overwhelming support from patrons, the concerns of the workers “have fallen on deaf ears”, according to Kelly. “The Board of Trustees is supposed to represent the community but so far they have not reflected that at all.”

On June 3rd, the North Branch Library hosted a kick-off event for their Summer Reading Program. Families from across Peoria gathered to enjoy a fun day of family sing-alongs, face paintings, and a special storytime all coordinated by library workers. As droves of minivans and SUVs entered the parking lot, they were greeted with an informational picket from rank-and-file library workers and community supporters.

The union had no intention of ruining such an important event that they worked so hard to create. At the same time, they wanted to let people know what they were fighting for. At the very front of the line was Kelly holding up a sign that showed the library’s lawyer has been paid in fees more in 6 months than Kelly will receive for their entire year’s worth of labor.

Nancy Long, a long-time patron of the McClure Branch library, was in attendance to show solidarity with the workers. “I have three kids. The third wouldn’t have passed kindergarten without the library” she told People’s World.

The variety of books allowed her child the ability to explore and find the books she was interested in reading. This service that the library provided Long’s child is exactly what makes Kelly so passionate about their work. Long wants the Board of Trustees to know “You got the money, you got the people, take advantage of it before it all falls apart.”

Long’s statement to the Board of Trustees is part of a growing consciousness among the community that an attack on the library workers is an attack on the library itself. Central Illinois libraries and residents have been at the forefront of supporting the recent Illinois HB 2789 which requires all public libraries to have a written policy against book banning to remain eligible for state grants.

Central Illinois Reads, a coalition of local libraries, has declared “the freedom to read is essential to our democracy”. The administration’s protection of these crucial institutions of democracy has not yet carried into the economic investment in the workers that are the heart and soul of the library.

Currently, contract negotiations have entered into mediation. The union’s collective bargaining team and the library’s administration will meet with a third party to attempt to come to an equitable agreement.

During this stage of negotiations, either party can reject the recommendations of the third party, and the union would be allowed to call a strike-authorization vote. Since AFSCME represents public employees, an approved strike is required to be followed by a 10-day cool-off period before the workers can officially go on strike. From the union’s perspective, the community pressure gives them hope that an agreement can be reached beforehand.

For Kelly, a fair contract would mean that they would finally be able to afford new glasses. A failure to come to a fair agreement would force Kelly and many library workers to quit a job they can no longer afford to have.

We hope you appreciated this article. At People’s World, we believe news and information should be free and accessible to all, but we need your help. Our journalism is free of corporate influence and paywalls because we are totally reader-supported. Only you, our readers and supporters, make this possible. If you enjoy reading People’s World and the stories we bring you, please support our work by donating or becoming a monthly sustainer today. Thank you!


Noah Palm
Noah Palm

Noah Palm writes from Peoria, Illinois.