DPLWU demands a larger share of the $31 million dedicated funding from ballot measure 2I to be allocated to meeting staff needs

Denver Public Library Workers United is deeply concerned about the publicly-stated allocation for the additional taxpayer funding the library will receive due to ballot measure 2I passing.

While we are pleased that our library system will receive a significant amount of dedicated funding, we strongly condemn that only $5 million is planned to go to “people”—a category that includes wage increases, training, and professional development for existing library employees, as well as the cost of employing 5 additional full-time HR staff members—compared with $15.2 million for building costs and $11.3 million for services, outreach, and technology. Many of the same reasons that drove us to organize a union—stagnating wages, skyrocketing cost of living in Denver, stressful and unsafe working conditions—have forced our colleagues to leave their jobs at DPL. The library would not function without its workers, and we are disappointed to see this inadequate amount, the smallest sum of funding by far, allocated to addressing staff’s urgent financial needs and other major library issues.

Despite the administration’s refusal to voluntarily recognize DPLWU and work directly with us to transform our library into a democratic, equitable, and supportive workplace, we have seen changes to our workplaces that reflect our original demands: instituting quarterly Wellness Hours for all regular and on-call staff, revising job descriptions, addressing safety practices through policy, and conducting pay audits to raise the wages of our lowest-paid staff members, among others. Before these raises, less than 10% of these workers were at the midpoint of their salary range; now more than 50% are. However, according to information we obtained from a CORA request, the vast majority of all DPL staff (including managers) are still below their salary’s midpoint, and much more work and financial investment are needed to resolve the persistent and widespread issues that are causing so many people to leave the library. 

Staff at DPL are plagued by chronic underpayment and annual “merit” raises that do not keep up with inflation (effective pay cuts), and we must also contend with the systemic issues of rising interest rates, widespread burn-out, understaffing and ongoing turnover—all while being asked to expand hours and services, open new library locations and tolerate unsafe working conditions, sexual harassment, threats, and violence as frequent workplace occurrences. We need to hold our library leadership accountable for historically de-prioritizing frontline workers’ well-being, being reactive rather than proactive, sweeping issues under the rug, and implementing piecemeal, shaky-at-best EDI efforts that have left staff frustrated, traumatized, and humiliated. Libraries and library workers are under attack nationwide, our work has stretched far beyond the traditional role of libraries, and our lowest paid workers are constantly being asked to do more and take on extra responsibilities without getting paid more. 

DPLWU demands that our administration revise the current plan for the 2I funding to increase wages so that all DPL employees are paid a sustainable, living wage, within a foreseeable, concrete timeline. Additionally, we ask that decisions to implement future funding and plans to continue to combat long-standing issues of undercompensation and high turnover be transparent and include frontline staff and our union, both of whom were completely excluded from the initial 2I funding allocation. Including staff in important decisions is an opportunity to close the gaps between decision makers in our administration and the staff who work with the public every day and are affected the most directly by choices that are made in our organization.

We are proud of the important role library workers play in supporting our communities’ needs, and we insist that the fulfillment of these needs should not be at the financial, psychological, or physical expense of staff. A strong library necessitates a strong, adequately-compensated, empowered staff, and responsible financial planning—not recklessly spending to expand library services and opening new locations without having plans to fix our library’s current issues. 

We urge all library staff to unite with us in fighting for a better DPL by joining DPLWU and contacting library administration and the Library Commission to advocate for a concrete plan addressing precise details about how we will get every single DPL worker to a living wage in the near future.

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