Last night's council meeting didn’t exactly follow the agenda.
Bradford library workers and supporters once again filled the council chamber with the intention of voicing their concerns about the ongoing library strike during the regular meeting of council Tuesday evening.
Bradford West Gwillimbury Library workers have been on strike since July 21, when negotiations over their first collective agreement came to a head.
Tuesday evening marked the fourth regular council meeting in a row at which library workers and supporters came to speak during open forum.
The first time they came to speak before council on Aug. 1, Mayor James Leduc agreed to extend the time for open forum and 11 people were able to speak over the course about 48 minutes, and similarly at the Aug. 15 meeting, Leduc began the meeting by suspending the procedural bylaw and extending the time for speakers to 40 minutes, which allowed 11 people to speak.
More recently on Sept. 5, the mayor allowed just four people to speak for five minutes each, and he made the same proposal during last night’s meeting.
However, the speakers had other plans.
After four speakers had a chance to make statements in support of the library workers, Leduc tried to make time for two other members of public to speak on other issues during open forum, but was instead met with shouts of disapproval from the crowd and calls for his resignation.
Katherine Grzejszczak, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 905, which is representing the 36 striking library workers, asked the mayor to extend the time for open forum, but he declined, and the crowd responded with more shouts of disapproval.
In response the mayor decided to recess the meeting, but that didn’t stop the library workers and supporters from speaking their minds, as Grzejszczak placed a portable speaker and microphone on the table at which guests speak.
Using this ad-hoc setup, another seven speakers gave council a piece of their minds, during which time, the mayor requested the assistance of South Simcoe Police Service officers to maintain order in the council chamber.
While officers did attend, and monitored the situation, they didn’t ask anyone to leave, even as the crowd began chanting slogans of “open the library,” “one day longer, one day stronger,” and “the workers united will never be defeated.”
In response, the mayor left the meeting as the crowd chanted “shame” and he was followed shortly thereafter by Ward 4 Coun. Joseph Giordano and Ward 6 Coun. Nickolas Harper.
Ward 1 Coun. Cheraldean Duhaney, Ward 2 Coun. Jonathan Scott and Ward 3 Coun. Ben Verkaik all stayed, but with Deputy Mayor Raj Sandhu, Ward 5 Coun. Peter Ferragine and Ward 7 Coun. Peter Dykie absent, the meeting was no longer able to maintain a quorum of council and CAO Geoff McKnight announced to the crowd that the meeting was adjourned.
When reached by phone after the meeting the mayor said he had no immediate comment, but planned to provide a statement on Wednesday.
In an interview after the meeting, Grzejszczak explained the plan for the evening was to ensure community members were heard by council, but there was no intention to shut down the meeting.
“The mayor has been cutting us off. Last time he cut us off after four speakers. Especially at the last council meeting we had a lot of community members attend prepared to speak and were denied the opportunity to speak, and this time we decided that everyone who is coming will have their voices heard,” she said, adding that council cannot just wait out the issue.
Despite the actions of speakers resulting in the premature end of the meeting, Grzejszczak still felt their efforts helped the cause.
“I think it shows how angry people are that they haven't been heard by their elected representatives on this issue, that they’ve been consistently ignored for the last eight weeks as they’ve been asking for this strike to be settled,” she said.
That anger was made explicitly clear by John Correia, who was one of the seven people to speak after the meeting was recessed.
“I am angry at you, particularly the mayor, but also town councillors. You are irresponsible and you are acting disrespectfully to the workers,” he said.
During open forum, library worker Wendy Zwaal spoke about the difficulties workers faced in trying to resolve issues at the library.
“We’ve been trying to get anyone to listen to us for over three years, but instead we’ve been ignored and neglected. ... We found that we could not get help from those with power and ability to do so,” she said, explaining why the workers decided to unionize. “CUPE chose to do what you all would not — they supported us and helped us.”
Zwaal also shared her experiences at the bargaining table as unit chair, and her efforts to communicate to council issues in bargaining and staff concerns.
“For 20 days I sat at that table, I spoke at that table, I was insulted, disrespected and bullied at that table. ... The tone was condescension and the message was rejection,” she said, adding that the Aug. 25 decision by the employer (which is the library) to apply for arbitration “is to bully us and force a decision on us.”
Zwaal’s comments were met with a round of applause from the crowd, prompting the mayor to warn those in attendance that outbursts would result in audience members being removed from the chamber.
A resident who identified as Melanie Cuff said she attended the meeting to find answers to her questions and to hold council accountable for “their inability to resolve this strike in a timely manner.”
While open forum allows members of the public to make statements to council, it does not include provisions for council to respond.
Still, Cuff asked council how they would rate the importance of the operation of the library, if the mayor believes the library is a critical resource for the town and whether or not designating the library as a cooling station is a decision of the municipal government.
The mayor clarified that there is no back and forth during open forum.
Cuff became upset and asked who she should ask in order to get answers to her questions, to which the mayor recommended she send him her questions in an email.
That didn’t sit well with Cuff.
“These workers are still continuing to put activities out on the driveway while they’re striking, but you show no care. You should be ashamed of your leadership. That’s what I have to say and you will be hearing from me,” she said.
During a union rally before the meeting Grzejszczak criticized the employer’s decision to request binding arbitration.
“Instead of coming to the table with $1.35, they would rather see a collective agreement forced on these workers by an arbitrator,” she said.
Despite some progress in other areas, wages have remained the sticking point of negotiations and the union is requesting a wage increase of $1.35 per hour per year for two years for library workers.
Grzejszczak also criticized the library board’s spending.
“When we saw the financials that were posted online from the library board budget, we can see that they’ve incurred $85,000 worth of lawyer expenses. ... In the legal submission that the employer put in to the labour board, the difference between what they had budgeted for the next two years for the wage increase versus what the union had asked for was $84,000. ... Instead they’ve now spent that entire amount on a lawyer to fight their own workers,” she said.
Ward 2 Coun. Jonathan Scott also spoke at the rally to share his personal view and hope that the issue can be resolved with a fair bargained resolution.
“The workers of this library have been clear that they deserve a raise. ... Frankly, the argument that if we had to pay these workers a fair wage, we might have to give raises to everyone else doesn’t sit well with me. If that’s true, we have an even bigger problem on out hands,” he said.
At the beginning of the meeting, Scott proposed an amendment to hold a closed session of council at the end of the meeting in lieu of a similar closed session that was scheduled to take place an hour and a half prior to the regular meeting to discuss library labour relations, but which was cancelled due to too few councillors being in attendance.
While the motion was carried, the lack of quorum that adjourned the regular meeting also prevented the closed-session meeting.
In an interview after the meeting, Scott explained why he felt it necessary to speak out during the rally and table the motion during council.
“At 61 days I think it’s become clear that we can’t play hot potato with this. Council needs to give the board the funding necessary to go bargain. I think it should still be a bargained deal, but after the display tonight, clearly cooler heads do need to prevail, and I think that requires everyone to check their egos at the door and put solving the problem first,” he said.
Frequent guest of the rally and the picket line Andria Babbington, president of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council, also expressed her disappointment with the length of the strike.
“Shame on them. This is about exploitation. ... If it was their wife, their sister, their mother, wouldn’t they be doing the same thing calling for equality?” she asked.
Brandon Haynes, president of Toronto Public Library Workers Union, CUPE Local 4948, shared the support of more than 20,000 library workers in CUPE, both in Toronto and beyond.
“It’s been very shameful that the employer and people that make decisions here in this community are very out of touch with what the community deserves. They have not shown any respect to the library workers over the alt couple of months. They have not shown respect for the struggles that you all have and the fairness you are hoping to achieve,” he said.
Tuesday marked Day 61 of the strike, which makes it one of the longest library worker strikes in Ontario history, with only Essex County’s 231-day strike which ended in February 2017 being longer, according to the union.
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 and Diana Sheeler.
Dillon McDowell was also originally a member of the board for the 2022-2026 term until his recent resignation at the end of August.