April 19, 2018

Alex Youngberg | Movers & Shakers 2008

On the Line

Alex Youngberg, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 391, is an activist on many community issues, but the three-month strike she led against the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) exemplifies her belief that issues must come not from leaders but from the ground up.

The long-simmering issue of pay equity topped members’ list of grievances, particularly important in a province lacking equal pay laws. In Vancouver, wage disparity between primarily female library assistants and primarily male city laborers was $6 per hour. Members also wanted concessions on benefits, improvements for part-time workers, and job security.

Though Youngberg presented these issues to management before the contract expired in December 2006, months went by without action, as chronicled on her strike blog. Library workers were increasingly outraged and willing to consider a strike, she says, because Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) leaders “wouldn’t discuss our four main issues and wouldn’t set dates to bargain.” Even after the strike began and public pressure forced GVRD to talk, Youngberg had to demand a mediator before management made any concessions.

Meanwhile, striking library workers had mixed feelings. They strongly supported the principles of the strike, but they couldn’t get used to not serving the community. So while picketing, staff set up a book bin for patrons and answered reference questions with Wi-Fi and cell phones.

Youngberg helped keep picketers’ spirits up with pancake breakfasts, chili days, and rotating barbecues at different branches. Even more inspiring were library patrons who provided food and encouraging words, local authors who staged “read-ins,” and a group of women (“the Knit Picketers”) who knitted on a nearby bench and gave their handiwork to picketers.

VPL librarian Anita Galanopoulos says that despite constant demands on Youngberg’s time, she traveled to a Toronto union convention to secure extra funding for families hit hard by the loss of paychecks.

The agreement, ratified by members on October 19, 2007, after 89 days on strike, didn’t yield on pay equity, but it included the establishment of a joint committee on classification issues through which the union could continue to press for change. “In the end, we decided to engage again in public service,” Youngberg said. “There are other venues to fight for equal pay for work of equal value beyond the bargaining table.”


CURRENT POSITION Library Technician, Vancouver Public Library, BC; President, CUPE Local 391, Vancouver Public Library Workers

DEGREE B.A., Adult Education, University College of the Fraser Valley, expected 2008

STRIKE BLOG (AND BEYOND) CUPE391.ca President’s Blog www.cupe391.ca/blog