The Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky chapter of DSA strongly condemns the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s (PLCH) indefinite furloughing of 58 library workers. This action, which eliminated the staff of entire departments—Youth Services, Information and Reference, Genealogy and Local History, and Floating Staff—will result in the loss of decades of experience and was made with no consideration or consultation with library workers. This decision and the cruelly swift way in which it was implemented is just the latest example of disaster capitalism and will be seen again and again in the coming months as public institutions use COVID-19 as an excuse to “restructure” and remove well-paying jobs held by experienced staff under the appearance of “fiscal responsibility.”
While Library management claims the decision to indefinitely furlough whole departments “was not made lightly and happened after careful research and deliberation,” there is significant cause to question this action. First, the interest of library workers has been continually undervalued. When in-person services began re-opening to the public in early July, many questions were raised about how workers would be protected from COVID infection. The library management refused even to require facial coverings for users entering buildings despite the common-sense benefit of this practice, until the governor made it a statewide requirement. Additionally, as workers contracted COVID, concerns were raised about whether the cases had been reported to other workers who may have been in contact. As the pandemic reaches further heights, the recently furloughed employees now find themselves without income and (like so many others) without health insurance as of September 1, when experts predict a worsening of the health crisis.
That the furloughed workers received notice of their status at the end of a workday and with their email services already removed before the meeting was over—so they had no chance to communicate or bid farewell to co-workers and friends—paints a dark picture of what management thinks of those whose work makes the public library the beloved institution it is. The fact that the workers were completely left out of the “research and deliberation” management claims to have undertaken proves just how undemocratic a workplace it is. The only way workers at the Public Library, at any other institution public or private, would have any power or say in their working conditions and security in their employment is through having these demands expressly stated in a union contract.
As residents and library users and workers, we trust the public library to shepherd, protect, and share our society’s communal knowledge and information. This is not simply done through the physical and digital resources the library provides, but through the experience, skills and knowledge held by the workers who have devoted their careers to serving our communities. It is not only not fair to these workers to be cast aside so blatantly in a gesture seeking to appease critics of public spending but it demonstrates a real loss to our community that their experience and skills will no longer be there to serve the public.
To those of us who have followed the workings of PLCH over the past few years, this willingness to cut away valuable resources—rather than finding creative ways to meet expanding needs of working people—should come as little surprise. Today’s cuts are the latest acts driven by the anti-public motives that led the Board of Trustees in 2017 to propose selling off the North building of the main library to private developers. As long as a capitalist management ethic drives the administration of our public resources, it will certainly not be the last.