August 1, 2022 —
More than 200 information resources and museum workers from all three University of Michigan campuses today announced majority support for their union, the newly formed University Staff United (USU), AFT Michigan Local 284. The workers, who care for U-M’s libraries, museums, and other collections, are taking advantage of the university board’s cooperative framework for union organizing. Active campaigns to unionize other U-M staff units are underway.
The information resources and museum staff building the new union work in libraries and museums across University campuses in Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Flint. They maintain and share the university’s celebrated, world-class collections, from state-of-the-art and up-to-the-minute publications to unique, ancient, and endangered materials. Their care for these wide-ranging resources requires a mix of technical, ethical and practical expertise that deserves fair compensation. Onsite and online, information resource staff enhance and inform the university experience for all ages and levels of scholars.
“On so many issues right now, university staff are at the mercy of the department’s and the school’s leadership. If we’re unionized, management has to come to the table and brainstorm solutions alongside us,” said Samuel Simpson, a resource-sharing specialist with Illiad/Collections on the Ann Arbor campus. “We’re not organizing to go against ‘them.’ We’re organizing to work better together. For example, many teams could have more flexible and remote work opportunities if we could work together and create an in-person work rotation– but management often won’t allow this and won’t take the time to even listen. A union will make sure staff are heard.”
U-M staff in a wide variety of jobs share this desire for an equal voice, having found themselves in a position where a small number of high-ranking managers often make decisions that affect their indispensable work. Some of the specific conditions cited by information resources workers include:
- Increasing responsibilities without commensurate increases in pay or recognition – especially due to vacancies that go unfilled
- Little opportunity for advancement, including for staff with specialized experience or advanced degrees
- Pay that is inequitable, stagnant, and inadequate for the cost of living
- Discrimination, favoritism, and failure to provide needed disability accommodations
- High cost and inaccessibility of childcare
- Flexible and remote work policies that are arbitrary in nature and do not meet the demonstrated needs of each unit
Many information resources and museums staff work closely with non-tenure-track faculty librarians, archivists, and curators, who gained their own union representation in 2021 as members of the Lecturers’ Employee Organization – Galleries, Libraries, Archives, & Museums (LEO-GLAM), AFT local 6244. Meredith Kahn, librarian on the Ann Arbor campus and LEO-GLAM campus chair, expressed support for the newly-organized staff: “The librarians, archivists, and curators of LEO-GLAM are proud to offer our congratulations to USU! We stand in solidarity with our staff colleagues, and we look forward to building collective power together in the service of a more equitable and humane workplace for all.”
US Representative Debbie Dingell, whose district includes U-M’s Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses, said: “The university staff who announced their union today are building on a long and proud labor history here in Southeast Michigan. U-M is an anchor of our regional economy, so when workers there speak up and fight for the solid, dignified, middle-class careers they deserve, that sets an example that benefits our whole community.”
Michael Behm, member of the Board of Regents of the University of Michigan, said: “We know from experience that when workers here at U of M organize unions, their involvement in the decisions affecting their work leads to improvements both in their own lives and in the quality of the education, research, and healthcare the University is able to provide. Staff are at the heart of our libraries, cultural institutions, and every part of U of M. I’m looking forward to working more closely with them through USU.”
University Staff United urges staff from across U-M to join in pursuing dignity, equality, and justice through democratic organizing and collective bargaining. USU aims to provide collective advocacy for all University of Michigan staff by expanding to include additional job categories such as student services, research, and communications.