PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — There is growing anger among Philadelphia library workers as they prepare to return to work amid the pandemic. Some say they have no confidence that leadership can address their health and safety concerns.
Free Library branches throughout the city have not reopened to the public yet, but employees who were set to go back to work today say right now, they don’t feel safe enough.
“Would you go into work right now?” CBS3’s Natasha Brown asked.
“No, absolutely not,” Peter Santa Rita said.
He says he would like nothing more than to return to his job at the Parkway Free Library but he doesn’t feel safe.
“We don’t have proper PPE, we don’t have safety protocols in place. We’ve been getting emails from our co-workers and union members that things are not safe,” he said.
Employees in at least 20 of the Free Library branches throughout the city were to return to work Monday as the city transitions into the green phase of reopening. But in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, some say they haven’t received the proper training or safety protocols to move forward.
“We shouldn’t have to rely on what we had because that was for services as they were pre-COVID,” said librarian Sunita Balija. “We got two things of disinfectant wipes, a big box of brown paper towels and 25 masks.”
Free Library employees have now called for a vote of no confidence in its leadership, sighting lack of preparedness in reopening plans and significant staffing reductions due to the city’s recent budget cuts.
“It’s not that we don’t want to go back to work, we do want to go back to work. We want to go back and start serving our communities again. But we can’t if we’re risking our health, also our patrons,” Santa Rita said. “To just jump into this with no plan whatsoever, you’re just destined for failure. But the failure is that it’s going to be sickness and death.”
“We are taking the concerns shared by Free Library team members into consideration. Leadership has stated that libraries will not open to the public until necessary precautions are put into place to protect our staff and our customers,” said Board of Trustees Chair Pamela Dembe.
Free Library branches are often used as cooling sites on hot days like today. Once they do reopen, health officials say they will have to consider whether they can operate safely as cooling sites during the COVID-19 pandemic.