Providing clarity about layoffs at Multnomah County Library

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything. Every person, every family, every organization has to think differently now, including Multnomah County Library.

Some of the changes required by this new reality include changes in staffing. While living with the pandemic, we have significant limits to in-person service and far fewer in-person library users than we did before. Therefore, we are in the difficult process of reducing some jobs for the duration of the pandemic. (I wrote here to explain why). 

There has been incorrect information going around about what’s happening at the library, and I want to make sure the public is up to date and has accurate information.

This library has made major adjustments over the past few months, adding new services like expanded online access and curbside book pickup — and more adaptations are on the way. We know how much our community values library resources, and the hardworking and dedicated library staff, who are the heartbeat of Multnomah County Library. 

We are working with the union representing library workers — AFSCME Local 88 — to help people who ultimately will be laid off from their library jobs. While no one has been laid off yet, the union contract between Multnomah County and Local 88 guides this process and sets rules, mostly based on seniority, for who can stay and who must leave when positions are cut.

As we reduce the size of our workforce, we are working closely with the union to minimize the impacts of layoffs in the following ways:

  • Offering incentives for voluntary retirement and voluntary layoff
  • Identifying impactful new services that can be delivered within COVID constraints
  • Looking for job placement options at Multnomah County for pandemic response and other kinds of work

Some have overstated the scale of the planned library layoffs and expressed concern about the impact on staff members who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. The library has about 580 employees. We currently expect to reduce represented staff by 79 positions, with an additional six positions moving from full time to part time. It is our hope and expectation that at least some of the people filling these positions will not be out of work, but will fill other positions at Multnomah County. This number is lower than our original projections and is a result of our collaborative discussions with union leadership and library employees.

We hope to reduce the number of layoffs even further and will know the final number by the end of August. We will look creatively at options for every single person and strive to support them during this difficult process.

Our library has worked hard to hire more staff who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) especially in recent years. Some of those workers’ positions have additional Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSA) protections, tied to language and culture. Other BIPOC staff members have jobs without those protections and have a higher chance of being “bumped” by staff with greater seniority. Those are factors we cannot change since they are governed by the union contract. We have severely limited reductions of those KSA positions to four positions because our priorities focus on serving BIPOC communities and others most affected by the pandemic.

Since the pandemic began, the library has used staff input to work in new ways. Through innovative online programs, modified summer reading, expanded access on subjects that matter, free summer lunches, reaching out to seniors and homebound patrons, outreach with community partners and more, we have expanded our work. 

The library will continue to look and listen to its staff for impactful ideas and suggestions that we can put into place quickly and over time to help our community. This week, the library will begin outdoor computer labs. Next up is free mobile printing at all locations. We will loan Chromebooks and wi-fi hotspots and offer remote technology help. We have received lots of other ideas and proposals we will develop and act on.

The library will do everything it can right now to offer options, support and compassion in this process. We will focus on helping our community recover, with a workforce aligned to do that. We will also keep our eye on the horizon with a vision to better serve future generations.

Vailey Oehlke, director of libraries