February 17, 2018

Victoria, BC, Library Strike Continues, with Row Over ‘Food for Fines’

By Jennifer Pinkowski

The three-month labor dispute between the Greater Victoria Library System (GVLS), BC, and 250 library workers represented by CUPE 410 has heated up. Earlier this week, library staffers walked off the job for two days, shutting down all nine branches in the system; it was at least the sixth such action. On November 29, they launched a “Food for Fines” strike action that has management accusing the union of crossing the legal line.
For the past six weeks, circulation staff have not accepted payment from customers for overdue fines. Now the union has switched gears by launching the “Food for Fines” program, waiving fines under $10 if patrons donate food for the local food bank. Library managers, however, say such a policy is unauthorized, and librarians who follow it risk disciplinary action. According to the Times-Colonist, library CEO Barry Holmes sent an email to the union that reads, “To [waive fines] is to interfere with the contract between the public and the library and contradictory to library board policy.” The library could file a grievance against the union to recover lost revenue, according to the article.

CUPE 410 leader Ed Seedhouse, who works in the systems department of the central branch, waived a library fee on November 29 and was called in to meet with Holmes, who reprimanded him. “Forgiving fines is not my normal job, but as union president, I felt I had to put my neck on the chopping block first,” Seedhouse told Library Journal. “Their own forgiveness policy is exactly the same as ours, except they want management staff to do the forgiving. We say that’s illegal strike-breaking.”
LJ was unable to get a comment from Holmes before press time, as he postponed a scheduled interview. However, he told the Times-Colonist that allowing only managers to accept food for fines protects “the principle that it is within management’s authority to waive the fines, but still supports a good community program and lessens the confusion there may be for the public.” The GVLS web site advises patrons who want to pay overdue fines to speak with a manager at the central library.

Victoria library workers have staged a series of strike actions since early September, after eight months of negotiations with library management stalled. At issue is pay equity for library employees with other municipal employees, according to union officials, who claim that library management has failed to “deliver on a promise” made in 1996 to achieve pay parity. Library representatives say the pay equity issue was resolved in 2005 with a 9.5 percent wage increase over the last decade. There are no talks scheduled between the parties. A nearly three-month-long library strike in nearby Vancouver was settled in October.

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