Following the failed marathon negotiations over the weekend, 2,300 library workers are now off the job and will head to the picket lines. Hundreds rallied Monday at city hall and others demonstrated at the Toronto Reference Library.
Cicero once said, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”
98 Branches Closed
If you’re hoping to drop off your overdue James Joyce book at your local Toronto Public Library or wishing to access the Internet to find out the latest news of the day then you will have to wait. The doors at all 98 city library branches have been closed as 2,300 workers have walked the picket lines.
Library workers and union members walk the picket lines outside of Toronto city hall.
During the labour disruption, book drop-offs will be shut down, meetings, events, programs and classes will be cancelled and all late fees for books and other material will be waived. Most library website services will be available throughout this interruption.
After not being able to reach a labour agreement, library workers went on strike. CUPE Local 4948 President Maureen O’Reilly said the major points of negotiations are part-time jobs and job security, which are not being agreed upon.
At the beginning of the weekend, it looked like a deal was nearly reached and City Councillor and Chair of the Toronto Public Library Board Paul Ainslie was optimistic.
Local 4948 President Maureen O'Reilly talks to reporters during a scrum about Monday's strike and the current negotiations with the City.
“We remain committed to working with Toronto Public Library Workers’ Union Local 4948 to reach a settlement that is fair and reasonable to our staff and affordable to the residents of Toronto so that we can resume public library service in Toronto as soon as possible,” said Ainslie in a news release.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford did not comment on the negotiations during his weekly Cut the Waist weigh-in in front of his office.
The Picket Lines
Outside of city hall, library workers, union members and supporters picketed the lines and marched full circle around Nathan Phillips Square. Various public officials and community leaders stood in solidarity with the City employees, including Canadian New Democratic Party Member of Parliament Peggy Nash, who is also running for the NDP leadership, and Ontario Federation of Labour President Sid Ryan.
Canadian New Democratic Party Member of Parliament and NDP leadership candidate Peggy Nash speaks with Local 4948 President Maureen O'Reilly outside of Toronto city hall.
O’Reilly told reporters that the major contentions in negotiations are employment security and working conditions for its part-time workers. She accused the City of opening up their contracts and looking to lay off at least 1,300 library workers, which would lead to closure of libraries.
“It’s a loss of service for Toronto and Torontonians don’t deserve that. They’re readers, they love their libraries and it’s probably the most utilized public service in the City of Toronto and Torontonians deserve to have access to that,” said O’Reilly during a scrum. “We want to get a settlement and get out of here and get back to the libraries so we can continue to deliver that service and not be engaged in this kind of activity.”
She added that you would not have a severe service disruption like Monday’s “unless you otherwise have ulterior motives.” Workers continue to allege that the library board is being iniquitous and unreasonable in its promises to the city after it agreed to budget cutbacks.
Ontario Federation of Labour President Sid Ryan addressed the crowd of library workers, union members and supporters outside of Toronto city hall.
In the mayor’s budget, a 10 percent cut to the city’s libraries was approved. Ford originally wanted to cut $7 million, but city council later approved only $3.9 million in cuts. O’Reilly explained that the library has already cut 107 full-time jobs and only a quarter of the part-time workforce receives benefits. It is estimated that 50 percent of library staff are part-time.
John Cartwright, president of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, told the crowd that last autumn a large number of people gathered at St. James Park and said that there was something wrong with the way the one percent was treating the 99 percent. Cartwright asked the crowd: “Are you part of the 99 percent?” The crowd responded enthusiastically.
“We’re here today to tell the mayor and the city council board that library workers want respect with decent working conditions and want to be there at the libraries every day,” said Cartwright shouting with the Human Microphone. “When you cut over 100 positions with your budget, we all bleed. Not just library workers, but people in our communities, the children that come after school and those who can’t afford Internet and use computers in the libraries. This is the city we’re proud of.”
Toronto & York Region Labour President John Cartwright speaking to the large crowd.
The battle between the city and its workers will persist. The union representing inside workers, which includes social service workers, clerks, cleaners, planners and daycare employees, will hold an important vote.
On Tuesday, 23,000 members of CUPE Local 79 will hold a strike vote. It will also be in a legal strike position as of Mar. 24 at 12:01 a.m.
Councillor Ainslie told reporters that the library board sent its bargaining team back to the table with an enhanced offer, but “they weren’t even interested in reading.”
Last month, the City agreed to a four-year contract that would include wage increases but reduce job security.