After just two days of bargaining, talks have once again stalled between the union and its employer, the Bradford library.
Workers at the Bradford West Gwillimbury Public Library have been on strike since July 21 when negotiations over their first collective agreement came to a head.
The union returned to bargaining on Wednesday after the employer indicated there would be a new offer, but that new offer was essentially the same as the previous one for all but three of the 36 workers, according to Katherine Grzejszczak, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 905, which is representing the striking library workers.
Grzejszczak explained that under the new offer, only three of the workers would receive the union’s requested wage increase of $1.35 per hour each year over two years.
“It was an offer designed to divide our members. At the end of the deal in 2026, half the library workers would still make several dollars an hour less than the lowest-paid, unskilled positions in male-dominated departments in the town,” she said, adding there are people in roles with the Town of Bradford, such as general labourer, parks attendant and facilities attendant, all making about $26-27.
Grzejszczak suspects the library workers are being offered less because they’re mostly women, and claimed the wage increase the union is requesting could be funded by the money the library has saved in wages over the last four weeks workers have been on strike.
“This is not about the money; this is about council making a point that they just don’t have any care for the female-dominated jobs in this town that provide care and safe spaces to the most vulnerable people in this community,” she said.
A press release from Matthew Corbett, library CEO, explained the employer’s offer would ensure all non-student positions will receive the Simcoe County living wage of $20.70 or greater, which is $2.40 less than the union’s target of the GTA living wage, which they defines as $23.10 per hour.
The release says the library also offered an adjustment of all student rates to $16.55, retroactively effective to Jan 1, 2023, but Grzejszczak clarified that none of the workers are currently earning the Ontario student minimum wage of $14.60.
However, she explained there are six members currently earning the Ontario adult minimum wage of $15.50, which is already legislated to increase to $16.55 on Oct. 1.
The release says the library also offered a rate increase of 4.1 per cent for the customer service representative position for 2023, which would still only be $0.25 per hour, according to Grzejszczak.
All other positions were set to receive the previously offered increases of three per cent for 2023, three per cent for 2024, 2.5 per cent for 2025 and 2.5 per cent for 2026.
The release said the offer also included payments equivalent to the rate increase previously offered for “red circled” employees, for the life of the collective agreement.
Those employees previously had their wages frozen, meaning they were not eligible for the three-per-cent increase previously proposed by the administration; they are also not eligible for full-time hours or health benefits.
“CUPE has rejected our offer, and the strike will continue,” Corbett said in the release.
Grzejszczak clarified that the union replied to the offer with a counter proposal, but the employer was not willing to discuss it.
Should that change and the employer is willing to discuss the union’s proposal or make a new offer, Grzejszczak said the union is still willing to negotiate.
“We would be there tomorrow to hear what they have to say, of course,” she said.
The breakdown in talks came just hours after Sarah Jama, NDP MPP for Hamilton Centre, and Matthew Green, NDP MP for Hamilton Centre, visited the picket line around noon.
Green doesn’t expect to see a decrease in the number of striking workers any time soon.
“What we saw on the front lines today, I think we’re going to see in municipalities across the province,” he said.
Green acknowledged that municipalities have not recouped costs downloaded on them from provincial and federal governments, and credited unions and organized labour for preventing deep cuts to wages, pensions and benefits.
“What I’m seeing more and more and hearing from more and more are people who maybe traditionally didn’t appreciate the value of a union. ... I’m telling you, the general public is fed up with big bosses who are making sometimes double, in private sector often triple, what workers are making," said Green.
"They’re doing it on the backs of people who are most of the time making minimum wage,” he said.
To resolve the issue, Green wants to see a higher standard of living through a shared prosperity of the economy including higher wages, better pensions and better benefits.
In Bradford in particular, Green worries that egos and ideological divides might be getting in the way.
“I get a sense that there are a few good councillors who understand that workers deserve fair pay ... but, there are some others on council who seem ideologically bent against any kind of supports for front-line workers, and the challenge is ... there seems to be a deep double standard between the management/supervisor class and the front-line working class,” he said.
Green also took issue with some of the comments from Mayor James Leduc.
“To draw his line in the sand as he did, not only disrespects the workers, but disrespects the people of Bradford,” he said.
On Wednesday, the mayor took to social media to issue an apology for allowing his emotions to cloud his judgment and influence his choice of words.
“Leading our organization and town through this labour dispute has been a challenging experience and I am truly sorry to our library employees and their union (CUPE 905) for the lack of respect I have shown in some of my responses to my constituents as well as during recent council meetings,” he said.
While the collective agreement would be overseen by the town’s library board, the funding for the board and approval of board decisions comes from council.
Library board members include Licinio Miguelo, chair; Ward 1 Coun. Cheraldean Duhaney, vice chair; Ward 4 Coun. Joseph Giordano; Ferguson Mobbs; Jen Turner; Diana Sheeler and Dillon McDowell.
Follow-up question sent to Corbett were not answered in time for publication for this article.