More than 50 librarians at the University of Washington didn’t show up for work Thursday, taking a stand against what say are low wages and tactics by the university to stall contract negotiations. 

Members of SEIU 925, which has about 120 librarians and press workers, authorized a one-day strike on Tuesday in hopes it would push UW officials to speed up negotiations. The union was certified in June 2021, and union leaders have been in contract negotiations for a year. 

UW Libraries, Press staff call one-day strike as negotiations stall

Chelsea Nesvig, a librarian and member of the contract action team said university officials have not been responding to many of the union’s proposals, including ones that are of most concern to members like pay and promotions.

Librarians, professional staff and press workers from all three UW campuses picketed outside the main campus in Seattle on Thursday, holding signs that said “Top 10 in research bottom 10 in pay” and “We deserve a contract.”

About two dozen pumpkins were lined up on the steps of the Suzzallo Library as workers marched in a circle chanting for fair wages. Each pumpkin represented an open position that hasn’t been filled. 

Advertising

Since bargaining started, nearly 30 people have left — some for higher-paying jobs, according to Nesvig. From the library, the group marched to Gerberding Hall to deliver a strike petition to UW President Ana Mari Cauce.

“The University of Washington values and respects our library personnel and we are surprised by the decision to strike for one day while we are in the midst of good-faith negotiations,” university spokesperson Victor Balta said. “The UW will continue to negotiate in good faith to reach a fair agreement. We have also requested formal mediation.”

So far there have been 26 negotiation sessions, Balta said, with another coming up in a week. “There is considerable distance between the UW and some of the union’s proposals — including a 16.5% total salary increase and changing the definition of a full-time workweek to 30 hours.”

“We’re at the point where it’s kind of hard to continue negotiating small things when we don’t know how things will interact with the really big issues like compensation,” said Jason Sokoloff, head of UW’s Business Library.

Compared to other large research universities, librarians at UW are paid less, according to Sokoloff, who is on the bargaining team.

The union, he said, isn’t seeking to be near the top. “We just want to get something fair — like not having to maintain two jobs while we’re living here.”

Advertising

The base annual salary for a librarian at UW is $54,000, Nesvig said, and the job requires having a two-year master’s degree. “You cannot live on that in Seattle.”

The union is also seeking more transparency in how salaries are calculated. Sokoloff said currently some librarians in higher ranks are paid less than librarians who are considered their juniors. 

“We don’t do a great job recruiting the best,” Sokoloff said. “You look at who works here and it’s not very diverse.”

Higher pay would help retain and recruit people, “so when people think about working here it seems viable,” he said.

Although there were nonunionized staffers working in campus libraries Thursday, without librarians there weren’t any instruction sessions or people to look up research for those who needed it, librarian Anne Pepitone said. 

Union members may vote to strike again, but those conversations haven’t happened yet, according to Sokoloff.

Correction: An initial version of this article misspelled Anne Pepitone’s last name.