Low-paid library workers fed up in Vancouver


Every Wednesday, Melanie McCree wakes up at 4:30 a.m. to drive to a friend’s house to wash her clothes. She would prefer to do laundry at her own place, but the wiring in her 700-square-foot home was last updated in 1981 and can’t safely support a washing machine. 

“To redo the wiring would cost upward of $2,000,” McCree told the Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries (FVRL) board during a public meeting Feb. 20. “I wanted you all to know that I worked for the library for 23 years and I have to wash my clothes at someone else’s home.” 

McCree is a member of Washington Public Employees Association (WPEA), which represents about 160 library workers at FVRL. Excluding managers and the librarians themselves, the union covers workers in practically every job in the libraries. 

Headquartered in Vancouver, FVRL runs 15 libraries and bookmobile services in Southwest Washington. Its coverage area includes Clark, Skamania, and Klickitat counties, as well as the city of Woodland. 

In June 2023, WPEA started bargaining a new contract with the board. Negotiations have hit a standstill over wages. 

“Things went really well for a while until we started talking about money,” said Abbie Hart, WPEA rep and a member of the bargaining team. 

A 2022 wage study by the Washington Secretary of State showed that the FVRL executive director was the second highest paid in the state, making about $172,000 per year. Hart said that since then, the salary for that position has increased by about 10%: In October 2023, the library hired a new director, Jennifer Giltrop, under a contract providing $195,000. 

Meanwhile, WPEA members were among the lowest paid — if not dead last — for their positions, the study shows. The starting wage for some positions, like library assistants, now equals the state’s $16.28 an hour minimum wage. 

On Feb. 20, more than three dozen library workers in blue WPEA shirts flooded the board meeting to share their personal stories about why they need a pay raise in the next contract; they made up the vast majority of the 50-person audience. 

WPEA also launched an online petition at bit.ly/ 3wwx4so asking community members to support workers’ fight for a fair wage, and the union is encouraging supporters to testify at library board meetings held at 6 p.m. on the third Monday of each month (The next meeting is scheduled for March 18.) Hart said the board increased its wage proposal during a Feb. 23 bargaining session after the board meeting, but it was still below what the union bargaining team was willing to accept. The agreed upon ground rules for bargaining prohibit her from sharing specifics, she said. Additional bargaining dates are scheduled for March 11 and March 18. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: The headline in this article has been changed to clarify that the workers in this unit aren’t librarians.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Read more