Library reduces number of planned layoffs


After weeks of organized public outcry and behind-the-scenes union lobbying, Multnomah County Library found ways to avert most of the layoffs its director announced in July.

Multnomah County Library is funded by a property tax that hasn’t been affected by the pandemic recession, but libraries are closed to the public due to health concerns, and library director Vailey Oehlke announced in July that about a sixth of the library’s work force would be eliminated Sept. 30 —including 122 positions represented by AFSCME Local 88.

But on Sept. 2, the library announced that no bargaining unit members will be involuntarily laid off after all. First, the library eliminated 43 positions that were vacant. About 26 employees agreed to take voluntary layoff or accepted incentives to retire — knowing that doing so would spare a co-worker’s job. They’ll have employer-provided health coverage through the end of the year. About 27 others will be given new jobs at the library. Another 26 will be reassigned to temporary jobs in the county’s emergency operations center, supporting the county’s pandemic response efforts. The temporary jobs will run through Dec. 31. Local 88 representative Eben Pullman said the union hopes that those assignments can be extended.

“This was tough going and got off to an extremely rough start in how library management rolled this out,” Pullman said.

9/20/20 NOTE TO READERS: This short report was based on official announcements from the library and the union and an interview with the union representative, but we heard from a number of readers that it missed key parts of the story and underplayed its human dimension. This online version of the Northwest Labor Press follows the print edition, which goes out the first and third Fridays of each month to about 50,000 union households. We’ll plan on having a follow-up story in our Oct. 2 print edition, which should be online by Sept. 30. Union-represented library workers who’d like to be part of that story should email Labor Press reporter Don McIntosh at [email protected]. [The headline above has also been changed from “Library layoffs averted” (which might reasonably lead readers to think that all layoffs were averted) to “Library reduces number of planned layoffs.”]


  1. Way to bury the lede and regurgitate the deceitful talking points of management. I recommend a rewrite. Start with your third paragraph. Add that many early retirements were under pressure; the retirees are not happy about being out of work. Add that each reassigned staff member is leaving behind years of hard-won experience and expertise that the Library will not be able to replace; the services they provided will be crippled. Emphasize that many of those reassignments are TEMPORARY, so that the impending layoff shows up on some other department’s books, and again – the services library staff had provided will be crippled. Add that the whole layoff process involves bumping less senior employees and losing expertise at every level and putting staff in positions where they will have to learn new skills, policies, and procedures – at the cost of providing services.

    Publish with this headline:


  2. Please interview library staff to get the whole story. Here are some of the highlights: massive position cuts, many demotions of senior staff to do the same work for less money, many staff have been placed in temporary and limited duration positions that could eventually translate into layoffs. Less staff means less service for our patrons A pandemic is poor cover for management’s thinly veiled downsizing and wage flattening agendas. Before declaring victory, please get the whole story.

  3. There is a bigger story here that you completely ignored because you didn’t do your job. Please speak members of MCL Workers United and rectify this journalistic laziness. MCL Workers United is a recognized group within AFSCME Local 88. To ignore them is an insult to union members everywhere. Thank you.

  4. How is taking a three month temp job the same as averting a layoff? You didn’t do your homework on this one. usually your articles are so balanced, but you dropped the ball here. please print a clarification.

  5. This was nothing but soft soap punctuated with a slap-happy false ending. What you neglected to report? Those whose jobs are eliminated are being pushed into 3-month temporary limited duration assignments (many within other County departments) then are being ushered into unemployment. How is this a solution?! It’s not. Why did you not say this? I question your ethics. I question motives. My career at MCL is shattered. Ten+ years all gone because management uses the context of COVID to push forward its long-term agenda of “adjusting” labor. We need stronger representation NOW. I demand you retract or re-write. This makes it look like you’re colluding.


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