Report: Low Morale at Unionized Library Workplaces – Part 2 (August 2022)

In an earlier post, I shared the latest quantitative data from my data collection project on the role/impact of library/organization unions during low-morale experiences. This post shares quantitative data from the project (n=26).

(52% of respondents did not report instances of abuse or neglect to their union rep). If you did not report the abuse, share why you did not report:

  • “It’s a lot of little things that would add up but happens subtly over a long period of time; Process towards resolution is long; fear of retaliation when I need tenure.”
  • “I am part of the non-bargaining unit staff at a unionized library.”
  • “There isn’t an established protocol for dealing with neglect that I am aware of. It seems to be very common in higher ed.”
  • “Our employee association (union) is non affiliated and tiny and my abuser has been here decades longer than I have.”
  • “It can be emotionally draining, I do not want to take it on at this point of my job. I am looking for a way out.”
  • “Union leadership is lazy old white men.”

What was your union’s response to your report of abuse/neglect at work?

  • We filed a grievance for the contractual system abuses that were occurring and I received remedy. The negligence and verbal abuse was brought to other administrator’s attention and discussed in labor management meetings where my administrator was told to receive career/leadership coaching from the Provost.”
  • “My union (REDACTED) treats librarians and councilors like we are ‘second class’ union members. We do not get the same schedule flexibility as the disciplinary faculty. When we complain about overwork or even file grievances, it feels like we are treated like an inconvenience.”
  • “Our rep met with me and gave me some suggestions about how to respond/proceed.”
  • “They were unable to help because my abuser and I are both faculty and we belong to the same union.”
  • “As a union rep, I’ve responded by providing information about other worker’s rights, keeping detailed notes of folks’ experiences, and making myself available to attend meetings as a witness for other workers.”
  • “They investigated the matter, held meetings, called mediation.”

How does/did the resultant action impact your work, practice, or career?

  • “It made me feel even more hopeless about our bad situation. It made me feel like I was overreacting to the situation or imagining how bad it was.”
  • “I’m disconnected, I am angry at my union. I do not feel that they have my best interest at heart.”
  • “Isolated and given more diversity work.”
  • “I withdrew from my obligations at the library, no longer do more than the bare minimum, and focused on work in other spaces at the university.”
  • “I am planning on leaving. I’m not sure if I’ll leave the profession, but I think I will. This is the second academic environment that has been extremely abusive and toxic and I thought having a union might be a way to mitigate the abuse, but it’s not…”
  • “If there was any result, I have not seen any, I am in a toxic work environment, but it doesn’t help with management is part of the problem.”
  • “The most important impact has been dramatically improved relationships with colleagues and some improvement of my own mental health because of being able to make a minor difference in supporting others.”

How does/did the resultant action impact your relationship with or perception of the union?

  • “I know the union supports me and they have my back as far as contractual grievances go. I have a positive perception of the union that I’m a part of and recommend contractual grievances to other colleagues as a result to receive remedy.”
  • “I definitely seem them as less effective.”
  • “I used to want to be active in the union. Now, I just try to ignore them.”
  • “The union is powerless in departmental issues and the union believes librarians to be at the periphery of their priorities as non-traditional faculty.”
  • “It made me lessen my trust of them.”
  • “I understood their position.”
  • “The most recent event has convinced me that the union doesn’t see librarians as worth fighting for when times are hard. I get that they are over worked, and it’s a tough time, and we are heading towards a rough part of contract negotiations, but this behavior is a continuation of bad behavior and is representative of behavior, or even an evolution of behavior, that librarians had sought union help for for years. Some action was taken earlier, but it never really came to a full resolution.”
  • “I become more pro-union with every passing day. Being able to stand together and share empowering information and protect each other’s rights and dignity is phenomenally helpful.”

If no action was taken, how does/did the lack of action impact your work, practice, or career?

  • “Nothing – just bearing with it.”
  • “The lack of action made my work situation feel worse.”
  • “I feel a bit checked out. Most librarians I know are overworked. The union doesn’t seem to care.”
  • “Made me not want to keep putting in effort, experienced severe depression and anxiety.”
  • “I’ve continued to work beyond what would normally be expected to get tenure.”.
  • “Not motivated, looking for other jobs outside of librarianship.”
  • “I didn’t report to the union, and the neglect continues. I feel that my job-related depression is worsening by the day: I can’t focus, I’m no longer excited about work, and don’t feel like I have a future in my workplace or in the profession.”
  • “I expend more energy than I have to spare managing my own frustration and and anger both following and in anticipation of interactions with this person.”
  • “I became suicidal; but it was not only the Union that could not/would not help. I was failed by everyone I turned to.”
  • “I stay because I need the job.”
  • “I see the job I used to like as “just a job” due to bad leadership of Supervisor.”
  • “I will leave as soon as I find other work. Maybe before. My health is suffering.”

Please share any other thoughts or concerns you have about dealing with a low-morale experience in a library or organization with a union.

  • “The union has made my low morale experience bearable for the time being. It gives me a way to proactively fight to make working conditions better and gives me hope that the abuse will stop at some point.”
  • “Low morale is so often related to behavioral issues that can’t be regulated by a contract, and that seems to be the only area where a union has purview or power.”
  • “Unions need to realize that they CANNOT treat workers in the same exact class differently. It’s gross.”
  • “I think that although the Union is supportive, there are limits to what they can do. If something is clearly in violation of the law or Collective Agreement action can be taken, but some cases of neglect are not illegal/against [state] or do not violate policy.”
  • “Unions compromise a lot to be “on good terms” with admin when they are supposed to challenge admin to be on good terms with staff.”
  • “It’s difficult to know how union representation should ideally function as an early-career librarian with no real point of comparison. It hadn’t even occurred to me to report ‘neglect’ which is exactly what I feel from library administration, among other concerns.”
  • “Unfortunately having a union seems to benefit tenured and tenure-track FTers more than PTers (like me). In theory, PTers could benefit from the advocacy of their FTers, but instead we are left behind. When FT librarians talk about issues they are facing, PTers are entirely left out, which also leads to low morale. The union leadership strongly favors FTers and often speaks to PTers in condescending ways.
  • “I have found that the union is very helpful in mitigating my own low morale experience. I’ve become significantly more active, and have seen many of my colleagues who might otherwise never have become union activists getting involved. By becoming more active in our union, we’re able to have a much louder voice in our attempt to influence our workplace for the better. Knowing that worker’s concerns are being heard at the highest levels of our organization because of the ongoing meetings between our union leadership and institutional leadership makes a huge difference – it feels a bit like we’re not screaming into the void, but have a chance at actually being heard.”

This survey remains open, so please participate if you are dealing with low morale while working at a unionized library workplace. I will offer more updates periodically.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: