Creating a Dartmouth Library Workers Union: FAQs

Creating a Dartmouth Library Workers Union:

Questions and Answers

Why do we need a union?

We believe everyone would benefit from being in a union! As a union, workers have greater power to negotiate for many improvements, such as:

  • Bargaining power for higher wages
  • Safe and fair working conditions
  • Provisions for continuing education and professional development
  • Clear and equitable systems of promotion
  • A system for workplace grievance resolution
  • Legal protection in case of wrongful termination

As for Dartmouth Library, the last few years have shown that there are pressing issues that the administration will not address unless we insist on them. A union gives us a way to negotiate with the administration about these issues. 

You might feel that things aren’t all that bad here, but maybe you think they could be better for you and your colleagues. Maybe you want a paycheck that reflects inflation and the rising cost of living, or think there should be more transparency about planning for the library’s future. A union works to secure these things through a legal contract.

What’s in it for me? 

Some of the things we will negotiate for in our contract negotiations are:

  • scheduled raises that keep pace with inflation
  • a pathway to promotion for staff at all levels
  • improved benefits for all library employees
  • increased representation in decisions that affect us 

Read more about our platform and what’s in it for you HERE. 

Which union would we be joining?

Over the past year, we’ve talked to several unions to decide which one would offer us the best support in forming a union here. We decided on AFSCME because of their experience in organizing libraries (including MIT and the Library of Congress) and museums. 

They emphasized to us that “This is your union: we serve you.” This is the kind of union we want for ourselves here: we are the union, we make the decisions, and we have AFSCME to fight for our interests in contract negotiations and to protect us as workers.

If you’d like to speak directly to AFSCME, we’d be happy to set up a meeting. When we go public, we and AFSCME will hold public Q&A meetings.


Union members pay dues on a biweekly or (monthly in the case of salaried) basis. Dues will be deducted pre-tax from your paycheck regardless of your union vote. However, nothing else will be asked of you, and you will benefit from the work of the union even if you are not an active participant in union activity.

We expect dues to be a flat rate of $42.25/month for full-time workers and $31.65 ($21.40 < 12 hours) for part-time workers. We will negotiate increased wages that will easily offset this (let alone the other benefits of unionizing).

What would my dues be used for?

Union dues are used to advance our common interests. On average, union workers make 25% higher wages than non-union workers. Union membership protects and empowers employees, but unions cannot work for free. Benefits of paying dues include:

  • Bargaining power for wage increases, policy changes, and seeking other benefits
  • Supporting workers who are on sick or disability leave whose short-term disability benefits have run out
  • Legal counsel during contract negotiations
  • Legal counsel for opposing an unjust layoff
  • A grievance process including union representation
  • Materials for and communications to members
  • A fund to support striking workers
  • Usual costs associated with running an organization

How do we get union representation?

In short: through a majority of us voting “Yes” in a secret-ballot election. It is a two-step process. 

The first step is a card check (also known as a union authorization card), then a secret ballot election. Dartmouth will not know that you signed a union authorization card. We will gather cards and when we have collected enough cards to get union representation (50% + 1 or about 70 people), they will be delivered to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to be counted. 

Even though we will only submit the cards to be counted when we have a majority, we expect Dartmouth will insist that we hold a secret-ballot election (as it did in the case of the Dining Services students). The secret-ballot election will be overseen by the NLRB. We hope to get about 70% of people on board to account for vote attrition (failure to vote, changed minds, etc.)

In the time it would take for a secret-ballot election to be held, we believe Dartmouth would bring in a team of union-busting strategists to mount an intimidation and disinformation campaign against our organizing effort.

What are the risks to organizing? Are we protected?

New Hampshire is an “employment at-will” state, giving employers full leeway to fire employees at any time. That’s how little protection we have now! However, federal law protects union organizers against retaliation from their employer, and we already have someone from AFSCME on call to intervene if this should happen. 

This means that employees involved in organizing (such as having signed a union card) are actually more protected from retaliation. Even altering someone’s hours, or any sort of pressure or harassment, would put Dartmouth at legal risk. 

If you experience any form of retaliation for participating in our union effort, contact us immediately! Retaliation for signing a union card is illegal, and we have the means to protect our members.

I just got a raise, thanks to the work of the Library Leadership Team. And they say they’ll be doing this for both non-exempt and exempt staff. So why would I need a union?

If you recently got a raise, we are thrilled for you! We know that real dollars make a real difference in this outrageous inflationary economy. For those who are not aware, the Library Leadership Team (LLT) studied the problem of compensation compression among non-exempt employees who have been at Dartmouth for some time. They advocated to the Provost on behalf of these employees and in October 2022 achieved the goal of raising these wages. We support their hard work and success correcting the stagnant wages that so many staff have been experiencing. 

That being said, we still feel that forming a union is the right thing to do. With a union contract, we would have the power to negotiate for raises that keep pace with inflation. And not just on a one-time basis, as the LLT has done, but as part and parcel of contract negotiations that happen on a regular cycle, usually every 3 years. 

With a union, you would not be facing years of lost wages, or see a group of senior administrators devote untold hours and energy into addressing wage compression when their time and focus is needed elsewhere. A union systematizes equity in a way that our current workplace will never be able to. 

I want to encourage others to vote yes. Can I organize at work?

We strongly advise that you talk to colleagues outside of the building, during lunch breaks or during non-work hours. Except for getting personal email addresses, we avoid using Dartmouth email (or Slack, or Zoom, or office phones) to discuss organizing a union. 

As for whether you are allowed to talk about unions at work, Dartmouth has no rules at present against this. And according to the NLRB, it is completely legal:

Your employer may maintain and enforce non-discriminatory rules limiting solicitation and distribution, except that your employer cannot prohibit you from talking about or soliciting for a union during non-work time, such as before or after work or during break times; or from distributing union literature during non-work time, in non-work areas, such as parking lots or break rooms. Also, restrictions on your efforts to communicate with co-workers cannot be discriminatory. For example, your employer cannot prohibit you from talking about the union during working time if it permits you to talk about other non-work-related matters during working time.

Will the union protect us from being laid off?

Not completely, but we will be much more protected than we are now. At present, we are not protected at all from being fired or laid off, because New Hampshire law defines us as “employed at-will” workers (see 7, above). 

Under a collective bargaining agreement (the contract between Dartmouth and the union that determines ranks, wages, and other working conditions), our contract will protect us from being fired without just cause. That means that Dartmouth would have to notify the union of any layoff decision, which will take legal recourse to defend the employee if they have not been treated fairly.

Who draws up our contract?

Once our union is established, we would hold elections for those we want to represent us, including officers, similar to how our Dartmouth College Library Staff Association officers were elected. They will establish a Bargaining Committee, who will have support from the local chapter of our union affiliate, including legal counsel, as they work with Dartmouth to negotiate a contract that would cover all non-managerial library staff.

How can salaried and hourly employees have the same interests? The same contract?

All employees have some issues in common: working conditions, wages, benefits, legal protection, and so on. A contract would help everyone on these fronts. In addition, it would have separate sections to address issues that are relevant to different types of employees (both professional and technical, for instance) or even specific to certain departments.

I’m a manager, can I still join the union?

The NLRB excludes from union membership those workers who can hire and fire other workers. We believe that the only people who have hiring and firing power are those in the library administration. However, whether managers can join the union would depend on how roles were defined in our contract. It is possible that some managers might be excluded from a CBA. 

Even if you are excluded from the union, we hope you will support your fellow workers by signing a card.

Would I have to do work for the union in addition to my job in the library?

How much you’re involved in the union is entirely up to you. We would all pay monthly dues, but further involvement in the union beyond that (such as elected positions or volunteer work) is your choice. We all have other life and work commitments that may make it easier or harder to be involved.

Do we have support for our unionizing, and if so, whose?

Yes! We’ve gotten advice and encouragement from various local unions, other New Hampshire labor organizations, labor activists, and elected officials. 

We also believe we will have the support of the faculty and other groups on campus. As you may be aware, Dartmouth student workers recently voted to form their own union, so there is plenty of support for us throughout the Dartmouth community! And at the Solidarity Town Hall this January, there were representatives from various faith, labor, and community groups.

What is the Right of Fair Representation?

Legally, a union must fairly represent all employees “in good faith, and without discrimination.” This means that in all the ways a union might act to represent you, from contract negotiation to grievance (opposing an unjust firing), they must follow their rules without bias. For example, our union could not refuse to process a grievance on your behalf even if you were a vocal critic of the union or its leaders.

How might Dartmouth respond to our organizing?

It will almost certainly be opposed to it and will try to union bust. “Union busting” covers a range of tactics most companies use to prevent workers from forming a union. You may have heard about this in the news, around such efforts by Amazon or Starbucks employees trying to form unions. 

These tactics can be overtly hostile, such as hiring union-busting lawyers, pushing disinformation, or sending threatening emails about how a union would make things worse. But this can also be done with a softer touch, like talking about how we’re all a big family, or claiming to be supportive of staff concerns but just needing more time to make progress on things (that staff have needed for years). There’s actually a Union Busting Bingo Card!

Based on our library administration’s past actions, we suspect that these tactics may be used:

  • Promise to pay bonuses to some or all
  • Promise to “listen” to us via town halls or listening sessions
  • Promise that a “plan is in the works”
  • Promise a study of “major work-life issues”
  • Promise that problems are being addressed by the Pathways group or the Organizational Values Action Team

Will we have to go on strike?

We certainly hope not. A strike is a last resort option, something both the union and Dartmouth would want to avoid, but striking is the ultimate expression of our union's power. It would only happen if there was an issue that we as a union felt was too essential to compromise on.

We don't want to have a strike – we’re here because we want to do our jobs, after all – and we don’t expect to. If for some reason it was necessary, however, we'd have the support necessary through our union, a strike fund, and other unions' support.

Are there examples of other unionized libraries?

Yes, many academic and public libraries are unionized! AFSCME represents many of them, including MIT and the LIbrary of Congress. We are most inspired by Northwestern University Libraries which are forming a single union that will include exempt and nonexempt employees. They are currently in the bargaining stage and you can follow their progress here.

What if I have other questions that aren’t answered here?

Ask us! Feel free to contact [email protected] with any other questions you have about unions generally, AFSCME specifically, or what unionizing could mean for the Dartmouth Library community or for you personally. We’ve learned so much from the questions our community has had – that’s where all these questions came from, after all! – so your questions are not only welcome, they help us all to think through every aspect of this process.