Get Involved: Union Issues

California's Get Involved: Powered by Your Library initiative was designed to expand the visibility and contributions of skilled volunteers in public libraries. It became clear early on that library directors, volunteer coordinators and other library staff were excited about this new idea of engaging skilled volunteers, but were concerned that local collective bargaining agreements may limit the use of volunteers.

So we did some research, conducting telephone interviews with library leaders from seven California jurisdictions of various sizes and representing a mix of urban, suburban, and rural communities. Here's a summary of what we found:

  • Library leaders who were interviewed reported that they had no specific language limiting the use of volunteers in their collective bargaining agreements. Most said that they had unwritten understandings that volunteers will not supplant employees.
  • These library leaders highly recommended engaging union leadership early on in the planning process for starting or expanding a volunteer engagement initiative.
  • Some have created mission statements for their volunteer engagement programs that do specifically state that volunteers will "supplement not supplant" the work of paid staff.

Here are some resources on effective collaboration with unions:

  • Practical Advice on Working with the Union about Volunteer Engagement – The videos on the right (total 16 minutes) showcase two library leaders on this topic in an interview format.
  • Tips on Collaborating with Unions to Engage Volunteers.
  • If you're interested in creating a "supplement not supplant" policy for your library's volunteer engagement program, you'll find examples as well as a sample process for developing one in Chapter 1 of the book "Volunteer Involvement in California Libraries: "Best Practices."