PITTSBURGH, PA – Robber-baron millionaire Andrew Carnegie must be turning in his grave today, after workers at his namesake library in Pittsburgh voted to unionize. Full-time and part-time employees of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh voted 173 to 106 to join the United Steelworkers (USW). The library workers began organizing in June, and they plan to seek a collective bargaining agreement that would cover employees across 19 branches and the library support center.
“I am so excited for us to start this next chapter and look forward to working toward a contract that we deserve,” Isabelle Toomey, a children’s librarian at the library’s Downtown and Business branch, said in a statement. “And I am proud of my fellow co-workers for coming together and utilizing our right to organize.”
The library’s drivers and environmental service workers are already represented by the Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), respectively. Yesterday’s vote unionizes the remaining 321 staff members.
The USW represents 860,00 workers in the steel, energy, transportation, and other industries. The Carnegie Library workers become its first local of librarians. “We are honored to welcome these vital community builders into our growing union,” USW International President Thomas M. Conway said in a statement. “This is a big step toward making the library more fair and equitable for the workers that keep it thriving.”
Library administrators accepted the results of the vote with grace. “Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh values all of our staff and recognizes that their service and contributions are critical to our mission,” Library spokesperson Suzanne Thinnes said in the statement. “Understandably, this has been an emotional and challenging time. This was a big decision for the future of the library and one that affects our entire community. There have been strong feelings and spirited debate from staff on both sides of the union issue. We respect the process and thank our staff for making their voice heard.”
Needless to say, Carnegie himself would not have been so diplomatic if he were alive today. The inspiration for the Disney character Scrooge McDuck was a bitter opponent of organized labor. The steel magnate sent some 300 gunmen to crush a strike called by the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers, one of the USW’s predecessors, at the Carnegie Steel plant in Homestead, PA in 1892. The gunmen murdered seven workers.
Nevertheless, Carnegie is most often remembered today as a millionaire philanthropist who endowed libraries and concert halls across the United States, including the legendary Carnegie Hall in New York, and established the educational institution that would become Carnegie-Mellon University. Irreconcilably antagonistic to income tax and the democratic redistribution of wealth by elected government, three years before he sent goons to murder the Homestead strikers, Carnegie wrote that the “best minds will thus have reached a stage in the development of the race in which it is clearly seen that there is no mode of disposing of surplus wealth creditable to thoughtful and earnest men into whose hands it flows save by using it year by year for the general good.”
Labor leaders at the time dismissed Carnegie’s “Gospel of Wealth” as little more than noblesse oblige and “a fig leaf over the hideousness of capitalism.”