This article has been edited to include comment from the union.
The Toronto Public Library (TPL)’s workers are on strike, after four negotiation deadline extensions on March 18 failed to produce agreement. The union, TPLWU Local 4948, represents 2,300 workers, about half of whom are full time employees. “There are approximately 1800 FTEs,” Maureen O’Reilly, president of Local 4948, the Toronto Library Workers Union, told LJ. The library staff has been working without a contract since the first of the year, according to CTV.
Pickets have begun, and the union held a rally outside Toronto’s City Hall on March 19 at noon.
All 98 TPL branches are closed for the duration of the strike, and bookmobile and home library services are suspended. All scheduled meetings and events are cancelled (room rentals will be refunded) and even the book drops are closed, so no fines will be charged for overdue materials. Most web services, however, remain available. That includes ebook borrowing, Anne Marie Aikins, TPL’s Manager, Community Relations, told LJ, but not ask a librarian or computer holds.
O’Reilly was quoted by CBC as saying “We cannot bring back to our membership an agreement to be ratified that would allow over 50 per cent of them to be laid off” in the event that the city decided to close libraries in 2013 or thereafter.
“If there are no plans to close libraries, why do they need this language enough to force us out on strike?” she told LJ. “The mayor has stated that he wants to get rid of 7,000 workers in the city. The city manager said library closures were off the table for 2012 only.”
The city recently inked a deal with another union in which only those employed by the city 15 years would be given continued employment if their jobs were outsourced, according to Metro.
Toronto Public Library board chairman Paul Ainslie said, “We’ve never laid off a librarian. We have no intention of laying off a librarian.” TPL’s 426 credentialed librarians, of course, are far from the only library workers represented by the union, whose roster also includes public service assistants, clerical and technical workers, and about 600 pages.
According to O’Reilly, 107 library positions were cut in the 2012 budget. And it’s not the first time: TPL’s staff has decreased 17 percent since 1998. (Use of TPL increased 29 percent in the same period.)
In addition to job security, another major issue is the city’s desire to remove a clause that makes seniority a factor in the assigning of shifts to part-time workers, according to TV news channel CP 24. (The same issue impacts another union representing indoor city workers, which may also strike as early as March 20.)
The library workers’ strike comes a few weeks after the TPL decided to sell advertising to raise revenue, as LJ reported. The union received a “no board” report from the Ministry of Labour at the beginning of March, clearing the legal way for the strike.
The strike does not mean negotiations have completely broken down. “We will continue to negotiate as long as there is meaningful discussion coming from the employer,” O’Rielly told LJ. And the union’s hard line on job security doesn’t mean it’s unwilling to give elsewhere. “We are bargaining in a concessionary environment,” she said. “There are dozens of concessions on the table.”