About 2,300 library staff are on strike after contract talks with city negotiators broke off Sunday.
City officials promised to have a contingency plan in place in case of a work stoppage. That contingency plan involves shutting all 98 city library branches for the duration of the strike, as well as cancelling planned meetings and events.Book borrowers across the city will be greeted by picket lines and locked doors Monday morning as Toronto's public library workers go on strike.
City officials promised to have a contingency plan in place in case of a work stoppage. That contingency plan involves shutting all 98 city library branches for the duration of the strike, as well as cancelling planned meetings and events.
A marathon round of negotiations that began Saturday and continued through the night, finally ended in failure late Sunday afternoon with an announcement by Maureen O’Reilly, president of the library workers union Local 4948.
“Our goal was to protect workers,” she said of the talks. “Despite our best efforts negotiations have stalled.”
A day earlier O’Reilly had not been optimistic of reaching an agreement. However, late Saturday night, both parties decided to extend their 12:01 a.m. deadline. Just after midnight, CUPE union spokesman Cim Nunn said the union would keep talking as long as they felt progress was being made.
The deadline was extended to 3 a.m., then 6 a.m., then noon, and then until 5 p.m., when bleary-eyed negotiators filed out of the Westin Prince Hotel where they'd been holed up all weekend, grim-faced to announce the strike.
The union said it had been presented with a new proposal by the library early Sunday, but it was ultimately rejected.
This will be the first such closure of the city's libraries since amalgamation. Library workers have struck deals and continued working in the past through strikes by inside and outside workers in CUPE locals 79 and 416.
“From our perspective it's very unfortunate,” said Councillor Paul Ainslie, chair of the library board.
City representatives noted several times during negotiations that they had a contingency plan in case of a strike. That plan consists of shutting libraries and eliminating overdue fines for books.
Ainslie said they don’t have the management to staff necessary to make opening branches possible. While he described negotiations as “a bit of a bumpy process,” he said he was surprised by the union's decision to end talks and go on strike.
Job security was the main sticking point.
More than 50 per cent of Toronto’s 2,300 library workers are part-time and O’Reilly emphasized the difficulty for many, who also don’t have benefits, to find enough hours to make ends meet.
An agreement that doesn’t protect their jobs from cuts or privatization would leave about 70 per cent of library staff vulnerable, said O’Reilly.
Ainslie said the city has no intention of privatizing library services.
There was an immediate response from both supporters and detractors of the strike action Sunday evening on Twitter.
“@torontolibrary is the centre of our community. Not sure what we're going to do without it (except deliver baking to striking workers),” tweeted Kerry Clare.
“I love @torontolibrary but disagree with strike action. No one is ‘owed’ job security (speaking as a freelancer with no security/benefits),” tweeted Sandy Kemsley shortly after.
This is just the second act in ongoing saga of contract negotiations between the city and its workers unions. It began with the outside workers, who reached a new contract last month, and continues with the 23,000 indoor workers represented by CUPE Local 79. They have set a strike vote for Tuesday and could legally walk off the job at 12:01 a.m. March 24.
What this means for library users
During the labour disruption:
• All library branches and facilities will be closed. Bookmobile and home library services are also suspended.
• Borrowers won't be charged fines on overdue items.
• All book drops will be closed and borrowers are asked to keep their library materials until the strike is over.
• All scheduled meetings and events are cancelled. Room rental charges will be refunded.
• Most website services will still be available.