Library workers and their supporters filled council chambers and dominated the open forum in Bradford Tuesday evening.
Despite being held in a more spacious location than usual, the regular meeting of council was standing room only in the Don Harrison Auditorium at the Bradford and District Memorial Community Centre, filled with people who were filled with concerns.
Over the course of about 48 minutes, 11 people made presentations to council in support of the Bradford West Gwillimbury Library workers who have been on strike since Friday, July 21, when negotiations over their first collective agreement came to a head.
Andrea Vander Kooij is a children’s programming librarian who has worked at the library for eight years and said staff are on strike because the library board isn’t being reasonable in negotiating the staff’s first collective agreement.
“Our employer has not negotiated with us; we have negotiated with ourselves. Time and again our offers have been rejected by the employer with no counter offer, which is not a negotiation ... The latest public statement from the employer says they have worked hard to avoid a strike. On the contrary, they have worked hard to avoid a union,” she said.
Another library worker, Judy Koulis, fought back tears as she described the difficulty of being “red circled” by the administration for five years, meaning she is not eligible for a raise, she is not eligible for full-time hours and she is not eligible for health benefits.
“My hourly wage has not increased, but the cost of living has. The food I have to buy has increased in price, the gas I have to buy to put in my car has increased in price, my rent has increased in price, my health and dental costs have increased in price — all of these cost have to be paid with a wage that hasn’t increased in five years,” she said.
Peter Sales said he has been a resident of Bradford for 44 years who used the library as a child, student and father, and took issue with Matthew Corbett, library CEO being ranked the fourth-highest paid library CEO in Ontario in 2022, according to the Sunshine List.
Sales also took issue with Corbett’s salary increases over the years, and the Sunshine List shows increases from $118,778 in 2020 to $125,391 in 2021 and to $135,237 in 2022.
“Nothing in Bradford has ever come close to this. It is a complete and total embarrassment and a disgrace. There is absolutely no reason for this to be happening. ... The public tax dollars are paying the CEO of this library. The CEO of this library needs to go, because he’s treating these people like crap,” he said.
Another library employee, Paige Walters, took aim at the mayor and councillors.
“I urge you to openly and earnestly settle this dispute and come to the table willing to talk, and not just tell the paper that you want to. Stop pointing fingers, stop trying to make up a narrative and actually do the work you were elected for as public servants,” she said.
While four presenters were initially allowed five minutes each, Mayor James Leduc then allowed another two speakers and suggested anyone else should provide comments via via email, as he noted there were still "five or six" more pages of names of people who signed up to speak.
Katherine Grzejszczak, president of CUPE Local 905, which is representing the 36 striking library workers, then asked that another two speakers be allowed as one person had taken time off work to attend and another had no access to internet and as such, could not supply her comments via email.
Leduc suggested only the person without internet access should be granted additional time, but Grzejszczak asked again for both to which Leduc addressed the union.
“We can negotiate all you want, but I’ll tell you what: CUPE, come back to the table. The board has dates set up. ... You’ve got to respect the board and come back to the table,” he said.
The mayor allowed only the person without internet access to comment before attempting to end the open forum section of the meeting, at which point the crowd became upset and Leduc recessed the meeting for about four minutes.
During that time, Leduc suggested he would speak to the crowd after the meeting, before Ward 2 Coun. Jonathan Scott made a motion to extend open forum further, which was seconded by Ward 6 Coun. Nikolas Harper, and as a result four more people were allowed to speak.
After the meeting, Leduc explained he was reluctant to extend open forum too much out of concern for the precedent that could be set by deviating from council’s procedural bylaw.
“If we make an exception here, what do I tell the next party that comes and says ‘I have 20 speakers here that want to speak about a very sensitive issue’? If we go down that road it’s a slippery path. ... I’m sorry if folks thought I was being abrupt or abrasive. It’s not what I was trying to do. I was trying to follow the process,” he said.
The mayor also praised the speakers and the union for their conduct.
“Many, many great comments were made tonight. We take them to heart. ... I appreciated the comments from everyone here tonight; they were respectful. I appreciated the way CUPE handled themselves tonight,” he said.
Leduc also clarified earlier comments about the reason the council venue was changed from the Zima Room at the library to the auditorium of the community centre.
“The council meeting was moved out of sheer respect for CUPE not to cross the picket line. ... I want to build trust and respect. You can usually, out of respect, get a good deal for everyone,” he said.
To that end, the mayor invited the union to return to negotiations.
“We don’t want a strike. We value our employees and we want to get back to the table and get this settled. ... They gave us an ultimatum and we can’t negotiate to an ultimatum,” he said.
Also after the meeting, Grzejszczak expressed frustration that not everyone was able to speak, but appreciated the motion to extend open forum to more than the typical number of speakers.
“I think Bradford West Gwillimbury put their message across to council. ... This issue is very meaningful to a lot of people, and so they wanted their representatives to hear them,” she said.