November 21, 2017

Librarians at McMaster University in Ontario Vote to Unionize

By Josh Hadro

Leaving the faculty association, librarians approved labor board certification last week

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  • Vote certifies application to Ontario Labour Relations Board
  • Two controversial firings in Spring 2009
  • Librarian union apart from faculty association

The librarians at McMaster University  (Hamilton, ON) have broken off from the faculty association to form their own union. On February 10, they filed with the Ontario Labour Relations Board for certification, followed by a majority vote last week in favor of the certification. The new association is called the McMaster University Academic Librarian Association (MUALA).

Momentum for the vote seems to have stemmed at least in part from two controversial layoffs of librarians in the Spring of 2009. In particular, one librarian’s position was "declared redundant a week before the beginning of her approved [research] leave," according to a letter from three members of the faculty association, including its president, John Berlinsky.

The letter condemns the university’s action, and calls "the nature of the termination to be outrageous and the decision itself ill-considered." (A Facebook group includes the letter, as well as other links.)

Administration response
While confirming that the librarians had voted to switch their association to a different bargaining unit, University Librarian Jeffrey Trzeciak questioned any direct link between the events last spring and last week’s vote. "That was a year ago," he told LJ, adding that there have been significant layoffs at academic institutions throughout the U.S. and Canada as a result of the global economic crisis.

In April 2009, he wrote in a message to staff at the library, "At this time, I feel no further staff reductions will need to be made, and that we can put this salary budget reduction initiative behind us."

Looking toward other libraries in the province
Previously, McMaster had been something of an outlier among Canadian universities, which predominantly have unionized faculties and librarians, according to McMaster librarians. (For more on academic library unions, see the Union Librarian blog, a project of the Progressive Librarians Guild.)

In addition, the 30 members now covered under the Ontario Labour Relations Act are in a unusual position, standing apart from the faculty association which includes several hundred members. Those in the library generally felt the faculty association had been supportive, said one librarian, but was in the end limited in its ability to advocate on the librarians’ behalf in terms of contract negotiations and revising appointment processes.

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