Local library workers are no longer hitting the books; they're now hitting the bricks.
Bradford West Gwillimbury Public Library staff officially went on strike at 9 a.m. Friday morning, with both staff and patrons locked out of the building.
Matthew Corbett, Library CEO, said the library will be closed for the duration of the CUPE strike.
“This is an unfortunate situation and we are sorry for any inconvenience this strike is causing. We are hopeful that the strike will end quickly and we can reopen the library to our valued residents and clients,” he said via email.
A release signed by Corbett and posted on the library’s website said management will work to ensure digital services including databases and eBooks are available.
About two dozen staff and CUPE members were walking the picket around the library Friday morning, waving flags and holding signs in support of the 34 staff, on behalf of whom the union has been trying to negotiate wage increases and benefits since September 2022.
After 27 bargaining days and spending 18 hours in a single negotiation session from 9 a.m. Thursday morning until 3 a.m. Friday morning, members of CUPE Local 905 made the decision to go on strike.
“We had a bargaining date set for today, however bargaining ended last night. The employer wasn’t willing to offer what it would take financially to settle the deal. On the most important item, which was the wages, they weren’t willing to find the money for the $1.35 raise,” Katherine Grzejszczak president of CUPE Local 905 said.
She added the town was unwilling to offer any health benefits for part-time employees and was only willing to offer a five-year contract, which the union felt was too long.
“It’s a first collective agreement, so we wanted to see how it would work out in practice and have the opportunity to come back to the bargaining table and not have to wait until 2027 to do that,” Grzejszczak said.
Mayor James Leduc didn’t expect the offer from the town to change significantly.
“I thought we presented a very good and fair deal for a first-time contract, so I’m disappointed that they walked away from the table,” he said.
While he couldn’t provide the specifics, Leduc said the town did make some concessions on wages, and was “shocked” the staff who serve the most-vulnerable members of the community felt the need to go on strike.
When asked if he had a message to residents who rely on the library and its services, Leduc said “I truly apologize to them.”
“I would ask the residents for some patience. Hopefully calmer heads will prevail in the near future, and we’ll be able to go back to the table and ratify a deal in the end. ... Strikes are a sensitive thing and we feel for everybody. Nobody wants these things,” he said.
When asked the same question, Grzejszczak recommended residents contact council and ask them to reach “a fair settlement” for library workers.
“Half of these works make less than the GTA living wage. They just want to be able to pay their bills and come back in and reopen the library and offer the services they love to offer,” she said.
The union has previously defined that wage as $23.10 per hour, while the Ontario Living Wage Network currently defines a living wage in the organization's Simcoe County region (which also includes Grey-Bruce, Perth and Huron Counties) as $20.70 per hour.
In addition, the union claims that 75 per cent of library staff only have access to part-time hours.
“The library’s bargaining team remains available to meet any time should CUPE’s bargaining team indicate they want to return to the table,” Corbett said via email.
In order for that to happen, Grzejszczak said the town would need to offer the $1.35-per-hour raise for two years, and clarified that the town did not claim that there is not enough money available in the budget to offer the raise.
“They did not want to offer the dollar increase because they said it would flatten the wage grid, and might have pay equity implications. So basically what we heard was, ‘we don’t want to give the wages increase to women, because we might have to give a wage increase to women’ — that’s how we interpreted the messages,” she said.
Nina Brown, vice president of CUPE Local 905, echoed her disappointment with Thursday’s marathon negotiations.
“You’re sitting there and telling me that $1.35 is too much to give me. You’re telling me that sick-time benefits are not on the table for part-time workers. Do I not get sick? Do I not need to have benefits so I can take my children to the dentist? How is it that I’m not worthy of this, yet I am the face of what the community sees when they come to the library? ... When you are sitting at the table for over 18 hours at day 27, you realize that self-respect and self-worth are kicked up a notch,” she said.
At the start of the picket, Brown rallied the resolve of staff.
“Without this library in this community, many, many people of all ages will be impacted, and we want to see how long they can keep those doors closed and keep us out here in the parking lot when we need to be inside serving the community. We can do it,” she said.
Ann Wallace Mitchell, who started working at the library in the old location on Holland Court, has worked for the library for 17 years and has been “red circled,” meaning she hasn’t seen a wage increase for more than nine years.
“It’s been tough, but it’s also sad. When I started here, I just figured this would be a great place to work, and I would be able to help my family financially and to have a good standard of living. ... The world has changed over time,” she said.
Some of those changes include alterations to job descriptions that have slowly but surely added more responsibilities over the years, according to Wallace Mitchell, but also changes in library demand and usage.
“You deal with a lot more things now, because the library is no longer small; the community is no longer small. You’re dealing with many things that big libraries are dealing with as well. Small town does not necessarily mean small problems,” she said.
Another long-time library employee fought back tears as she discussed her frustration.
“It’s a sad sad day for the community and for Bradford when our employer would rather close an essential service and a hub of the community than to treat the community and its workers fairly. All the workers want to do is serve the community,” said the worker who did not want to be identified for fear of retribution from the employer.
One worker wore a sign that read “Not on the Sunshine List,” in reference to Corbett’s salary which was listed as $135,237 in 2022, an increase of 7.8 per cent from 2021, when it was listed at $125,391.
An FAQ providing more details on which services are available and the impacts of the strike can be found on the library’s website.