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Peoria Public Library union employees working under expired contract as negotiations continue

Peoria Public Radio

Peoria Public Library employees unionized under AFSCME are working under an expired contract since the start of this year.

Anthony Walraven is vice president of AFSCME Local 3464, which includes about 65 employees of the library, as well as workers with the city of Peoria, Peoria Civic Center, and Peoria Housing Authority.

Walraven says pay remains the biggest sticking point in the ongoing negotiations.

"We have a large number of our members that are making minimum wage or close to minimum wage, and a lot of them have post secondary education in one way or another," he said. "This is not teenagers working in the summers, or part time or something like that. These are adults who are trying to raise families, or trying to support themselves."

Walraven said the majority of library employees surveyed by the union indicated they're living paycheck to paycheck, and many are also relying on government assistance to get by.

"There is this idea in the city, that we come across time and time again, that we have to provide excellent public services. But the only way to pay for that is to make it so that a lot of public employees are living financially insecure," he said. "And that is really the biggest thing that's going on in these contract negotiations. I think is somewhat of a reckoning with that."

In a statement, Peoria Public Library executive director Randall Yelvertron said the library and the union have a "long history of respectful and productive negotiations," and said this contract bargaining session is no different.

"The Library and its employees, like many businesses, entities and individuals, have felt the strain of inflation and the rising cost of living in a post-pandemic world," said Yelverton. "While the Library cannot comment on the status of ongoing negotiations, it looks forward to reaching a mutually beneficial agreement that will allow the Library to continue to offer all the same excellent services and programming that our community has come to expect and enjoy. "

Current minimum wage in Illinois is $13 an hour. While Walraven said the pay rate is still a matter of negotiations, he believes $13 isn't a living wage, nor is the $15 hourly minimum wage set to go into effect in 2025.

"The whole point of negotiations is to come up with a number that's acceptable for both sides. And that's what we're trying to do. But I can certainly tell you that the status quo is woefully unacceptable," he said.

Walraven said he's confident the library and workers can reach an "equitable agreement that respects the time and effort and labor that our members put into serving the community."

The library administration and union met for another bargaining session this week.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.