Staff at the Bradford West Gwillimbury Public Library could be on strike as early as midnight on Friday.
CUPE Local 905 and library administration only have two more bargaining dates remaining, today and tomorrow, to come to an agreement on the first collective agreement for library staff.
“Unfortunately, the town had not come with an offer that we can settle for on Monday July 17,” Katherine Grzejszczak president of CUPE Local 905 said via email.
That’s not a good sign for anyone who relies on the library as the facility is likely to be shuttered in the event of strike.
“If an agreement cannot be reached and the union enters into a strike, the BWG Public Library will have to close its doors and cancel all in-person services,” Matthew Corbett library CEO said via email.
Still, he said the management team would work to maintain the availability of the library’s digital services — including digital archives, encyclopedias, reference material, online courses and more — for the duration of a potential strike.
Grzejszczak previously said a strike could go on “for as long as it takes,” but just how long that could be is currently unknown.
“Every bargaining situation is different and I cannot predict any timelines at this point. The town coming with a reasonable offer can avert the strike or end it quickly. BWGPL workers want to continue working and keeping the library open for the community,” she explained.
Fortunately, the strike does not automatically trigger on the deadline, giving the union some leeway if they feel negotiations are progressing.
“If we feel we can reach a deal, we can continue bargaining past the legal strike deadline without calling a strike,” Grzejszczak said.
The clock started ticking on Tuesday, July 4, after the Ontario Ministry of Labour issued a “no-board” notice over the ongoing negotiations. The notice meant the ministry was not appointing a board of conciliation to help the parties reach an agreement and started a 17-day countdown to when workers are allowed to strike.
The union claims that 75 per cent of Bradford library staff only have access to part-time hours and that 50 per cent of all staff are earning less than a living wage, which they defined as $23.10 per hour.
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.
Grzejszczak previously confirmed that some employees are being “red circled,” meaning they are not eligible for the three-per-cent increase proposed by the administration, they are not eligible for full-time hours and not eligible for health benefits.
According to the union, the administration does not want to agree to health benefits for any part-time employees, and they are also proposing that some employees’ wages remain frozen, with some having been frozen for the last five years and one as long as nine years.
For the union, that is unacceptable.
“We’re not prepared to negotiate a first collective agreement where some of the workers would not even see a wage increase,” Grzejszczak said previously.
Today marks the 27th day of bargaining since negotiations over the collective agreement began in September 2022 after library staff certified as a union in September 2021.
In the almost two years since, Grzejszczak confirmed that more than half of the library staff have left.
The no-board notice came at the union’s request after negotiations “reached an impasse leaving workers no choice but to set the clock ticking toward a work stoppage,” it said in a press release.
That came after the union requested the ministry appoint a conciliation officer on June 21 to help assist with negotiations.
In April, library workers voted “nearly unanimously” to strike if necessary, but at that time, no deadline had been set.
Union members have also been circulating a petition supporting library workers, and while the timing has yet to be determined, the union plans to present the petition to council to encourage them to support the library workers in their ongoing efforts to negotiate their first collective agreement.
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.
Both Miguelo and Corbett have stated they hope a strike can be avoided.