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'Very fair' deal now binds Bradford library, workers

Binding decision from arbitration board includes three per cent annual wage increase, plus targeted bumps for certain positions; collective agreement expires in February 2026

Bradford’s unionized library workers finally have their first collective agreement almost 1.5 years after negotiations began in September 2022.

That’s the result of a binding decision, which was announced late Thursday afternoon, and prepared by a board of arbitration, including Wallace Kenny, nominee for the employer (which is the library), Wassim Garzouzi, nominee for the union and Eli A. Gedalof, chair.

Despite disputes over the amounts, during arbitration both parties agreed to three annual wage increases, beginning and retroactive to Jan. 1, 2023, according to the decision dated Feb. 1.

In a press release, Matthew Corbett, library chief executive officer, thanked staff for their commitment and patrons for their support.

“We value the contributions and unwavering dedication of employees and look forward to continuing to work together and ensuring a healthy and positive workplace,” he said. “We remain committed to providing a positive, neutral, and welcoming environment for all staff and patrons.”

Katherine Grzejszczak, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 905, which is representing the 35 library workers (a number which has changed throughout the process), said the union was not prepared to make a comment on Friday as they had not had time to confer with their members.

Mayor James Leduc called the decision “very fair” and “a win for both sides.”

“They heard our side and CUPE’s side and found that perfect comparability,” he said. “Arbitration does work and it worked in this instance where it supported both sides.”

Negotiations between the employer and the union had been troubled.

The workers had been dealing with uncertainty since being mandated back to work on Oct. 4 after the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) agreed on Sept. 29 to grant the employer’s request for arbitration of the workers’ first collective agreement, putting an end to the 71-day strike, which began on July 21 when negotiations came to a head.

Thursday’s decision includes an increase to $16.55 for minimum wage earners retroactive to Jan. 1, 2023, plus a three-per-cent increase for all unionized employees each year for three years (2023, 2024 and 2025), in addition to targeted increases for certain positions including:

Retroactive to Jan. 1, 2023

  • $3.20 to H3 (senior pages) max job rate, and proportionate adjustment to prior steps
  • $3.57 to H4 (facilities custodians) max job rate, and proportionate adjustment to prior steps
  • $0.25 to H6 (customer service specialists) max job rate, and proportionate adjustment to prior steps

Retroactive to Jan. 1, 2024

  • $0.21 to H2 (local history assistant and summer programmer) job rate
  • $0.50 to H6 (customer service specialists) max job rate, and proportionate adjustment to prior steps

Effective Jan. 1, 2025

  • $0.50 to H6 (customer service specialists) max job rate, and proportionate adjustment to prior steps

The arbitration board acknowledged many of the targeted increases were proposed by the employer; however, “given the extent to which customer service specialists lag behind their comparators, we find that additional adjustments are necessary, beyond those proposed by the employer,” they said in the decision.

The mayor had previously expressed concern the unions requested wage increase could affect bargaining with other town staff who had recently negotiated three per cent increases, but said he was no longer worried, since the decision provided library workers with the same.

Throughout negotiations, wages had remained a sticking point with the union requesting a wage increase of $1.35 per hour per year for two years for library workers, and the employer instead proposing a wage increase of 11 per cent staggered over four years.

The union and employer both pointed to different examples to justify their proposals, and in its decision the arbitration board claims to have given “regard to all of the comparator data placed before us,” but “have given greatest weight to those CUPE represented public libraries that are similarly situated to the employer.”

“What is readily apparent, irrespective of whether one prefers the employer’s or the union’s list of comparators, is that wages for several classifications at BWG lag substantially behind those comparators,” the arbitration board said in the decision.

The decision also granted paid leave for members of the union’s bargaining committee while engaged in negotiations, and granted the employer’s request with regards to which portions of the agreement apply to temporary workers, of which there is currently one at the library.

Both nominees dissented to the decision.

The collective agreement is in effect for two years, expiring Feb. 1, 2026.

In the meantime, the union filed an application with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on Oct. 31 seeking a judicial review of the OLRB decision to send negotiations with the employer to arbitration. CUPE wants the library's request for arbitration to be dismissed and the OLRB decision quashed, but the union has no anticipated timeline for when the court will make a determination on the application.

Michael Owen

About the Author: Michael Owen

Michael Owen has worked in news since 2009 and most recently joined Village Media in 2023 as a general assignment reporter for BradfordToday
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