Toronto Public Library Workers Union

Toronto library workers in contract talks with city

The head of the union representing 2,200 library staff say the city is not helping end "precarious" jobs.

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The city’s negotiations with Local 4948, representing 2,200 library staff, half of whom are part-time, started earlier this month. Their four-year contract expired Dec. 31.

By:  City Hall Bureau Chief, Published on Thu Mar 10 2016

The Mayor John Tory administration has new contracts with inside and outside workers but librarians — the only city staff to strike during the Ford years — are at the bargaining table and not happy.

“Our big issue is precarious work and they don't have one thing on the table to address that — their proposals would further entrench precarious work into our city,” said Maureen O'Reilly, president of the Toronto Public Library Workers Union.

“We don't see any bit of difference compared to the Ford years. Tory seems to have adopted the same strategy — get as many concessions as possible out of the unions, and in fact break them.”

O’Reilly spoke Thursday shortly before city council unanimously approved a four-year contract with city inside workers in CUPE Local 79 that, like the deal with outside workers in Local 416, reduces benefits, phases out job security and raises wages below the rate of inflation.

The city’s negotiations with Local 4948, representing 2,200 library staff, half of whom are part-time, started earlier this month. Their four-year contract expired Dec. 31.

The success of Toronto’s library system — with over 32 million items borrowed annually — is thanks to the hard work of overworked staff who made contract concessions in 2012, after a showdown with the Mayor Rob Ford administration and strike that shuttered the branches for 11 days, O’Reilly said.

This time the city is seeking further concessions similar to those made by Locals 416 and 79, plus some library-specific ones, she said. They include introducing a new overnight shift for staff who deliver books between the 100 branches and those who shelve them.

She said library management appear to be renewing efforts to have libraries stay open late at night, with minimal or no staff, like a system pioneered in Denmark. Users there can let themselves into “open libraries” with chip-enabled devices and sign out materials with a scanner.

The current contract prevents libraries opening later than 10 p.m., and only then with full staff.

O’Reilly expects the city will demand library workers agree to phase out job security that currently prevents staff from losing jobs to contracting out if they have 11 or more years’ seniority.

“We need more than a status-quo agreement,” O’Reilly said, when asked if another strike is possible. “It would be eight years of no improvements and just concessions.

“The mayor said it was good governance to offer police more than 8 per cent (over four years) to achieve labour peace and I’m saying they need to make a decent offer to library workers.”

Asked Thursday about the library workers, Tory said: “We're at the negotiating table with them and our objective is exactly the same as it was for all the other employees across the public sector in the city of Toronto, which is to find a deal … which is fair to those workers who do a good job for us in our libraries but at the same time fair to the people we serve who are the taxpayers and citizens of Toronto.”

Ana-Maria Critchley, a spokeswoman for the library system, said in an email: “We’re working to reach a settlement that is fair and reasonable to both parties, to the residents of Toronto, and are optimistic that this can be achieved.”

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