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 firstname.lastname@example.org. [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.”]