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San Francisco library workers call on city to hire more security

About 150 library workers shouting “Staff up!” rallied outside San Francisco’s Main Library on Tuesday. They were calling on the city to hire more branch security guards and increase the number of full-time positions in the library system.

San Francisco Public Library spokesperson Michelle Jeffers said in an email that the library currently employs 559 full-time and 486 part-time workers, and security incidents were down 13.8% year-over-year in February compared to the same time last year.

“In the month of March, we had a total of 114 security incidents across the system, out of some 320,000 visitors to our libraries. Statistically speaking that volume is very low,” she said.

According to Jeffers, the library has fully staffed patrol officers in 12 of the 27 branch libraries, plus the Main Library in the city’s Civic Center.

“We also have a mobile patrol officer team that roves around the city and is able to respond when necessary to a branch that does not have designated security staffing,” she said.

According to Jeffers, the library has budgeted $7.8 million in the fiscal year 2024 budget for safety and security investments, which includes security staff, a work order with the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, a partnership with nonprofit social assistant group Urban Alchemy and their full-time social worker program.  

The library workers are represented by the Service Employees International Union. In a statement Tuesday, they said that with a majority of branches lacking a dedicated security guard, library workers are forced to intervene in dangerous situations that at times turn physical.

“There are incidents at all of them,” said Jennie Smith-Camejo with SEIU Local 1021. “There’s actually quite a bit of security at the main library. It’s the branches. They don’t have the security guards. They do have incidents, they may not be happening every day, but there are incidents.” 

Some of the librarians at Tuesday’s demonstration working at those branches without dedicated security guards offered some startling examples of things getting out of hand. 

Jessica Choy, a librarian at the Visitacion Valley branch, said she and her colleagues had to intervene when a man started yelling at others. 

“We were just hoping he would leave peacefully before anything happened,” Choy said. “He did end up leaving, but on his way out, he kicked a window.”

The workers’ contract expires at the end of June. Almost half of library employees work part-time. Twenty hours a week are regularly scheduled but getting enough to total 40 hours requires workers to grab extra hours anywhere and anytime, Smith-Camejo said.

“Which means people are constantly getting moved around from place to place. So, they are really struggling to make ends meet and they’re trying to grab extra hours any way that they can,” she said. 

“The reality for part-time workers is that even if we’re picking up extra hours or covering vacancies, we can never get all the way to 40 hours. And a lot of us end up working six days a week trying to make up hours,” said library worker Jessica Choy, who works part-time at the Visitacion Valley branch in the southeast part of the city.

She said the union negotiated for part-timers to get full health benefits, but without the hours, it’s still hard to make ends meet.

“I’ve worked for 17 different branches in six months. Some of my coworkers talk about staying up until midnight when our scheduling app hosts news shifts so they can go on at midnight,” Choy said.

Andrea Grimes, program manager for book arts and special collections, has worked with the San Francisco library full-time for over 35 years.

“I want to see workers treated fairly,” she said. “We should make sure they have the ability to live in the city. This goes way back with this library for many years. The balance of full-timers versus part-timers has been very uneven. And we need to be able to run a library and a city department on full-time workers.”

Source: NBC Bay Area

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