Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)

Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)

February 24, 2012 10:33 ET

Library Workers request No Board report to spur negotiations

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Feb. 24, 2012) - The Toronto Public Library (TPL) Workers Union (CUPE Local 4948) has requested the Ministry of Labour issue a "no board" report on its contract negotiations with the Toronto Public Library Board.

Maureen O'Reilly, President of Local 4948, said the union made the no board request because negotiations had reached an impasse. Despite the presence of a conciliator, the employer has not shown any interest in substantive negotiations leading to a collective agreement that would ensure stability and protect the library services Toronto residents depend on. "It's our members who deliver those services. And our members value the services they deliver just as much as the public does," said O'Reilly. "But it's also our members being cut from budgets, and now the Library Board is seeking massive concessions from their contract.

This threatens the quality of remaining jobs, and the conditions for those doing them; and that further threatens the quality of service. We are being stretched thin. If the Board values public library services, they will remove the concessions, and negotiate a fair deal, so we can assure the public that workers have secured the sustainable conditions they need to provide the best library services on the continent."

The Toronto Public Library is the most highly-used public library system in the world, and its staff face many unique issues in negotiating their contract, which expired January 1 of this year.

  • Even though public support from across the city avoided branch closures and cuts to open hours, deep cuts were made to staff. The TPL lost 107 positions - resulting in a 17% cut to staff since amalgamation, even though usage has increased 29% in the same time. One million more people made use of Toronto's public libraries in 2011 than in the previous year.
  • Three quarters of the TPL workforce are women. Half of employees are now part-time, and the TPL is relying more on part-time work and check-out machines. More work being done for less reward reduces quality of life for staff, which reduces quality of service for the public. There could not be a worse time to strip away workplace protections and make it harder for this growing pool of precarious employees to do their jobs.

"Our amazing public library is unique in the world," said O'Reilly. "And our workers are in a unique position, with unique concerns. This request is a common precautionary measure to make sure that it's these unique circumstances - and not a central ideology coming from City Hall - that are at the centre of discussions."

Toronto Public Library workers bargaining to stop more library cuts

In January, people all across Toronto asked their City Councillors to defend Toronto Public Library (TPL) services. As a result, millions of dollars worth of cuts were successfully kept out of the 2012 budget.

Now, City management is using labour negotiations to bring those cuts in through the back door - and make it easier to cut even more library service during next year's budget.

Like trains with no tracks: Cuts to workers are cuts to service.

  • The TPL is the most highly-used public library in North America.
  • Despite successful community efforts to save service, 107 positions were still "deleted."
  • TPL staffing has now decreased by 17% since amalgamation.
  • But meanwhile, demand for our services has increased by 29%! There were a million new visits to the library last year.

This is like building trains while removing tracks. There's no sense in maintaining funds for materials while getting rid of the people who select, order, maintain, distribute, and connect people with those materials. A library is more than a building.

The TPL is heading towards a "big box store" staffing model, with fewer service desks and library professionals available to offer assistance and expertise. Among other things, this means:

  • Longer wait times for assistance with accessing and using collections.
  • Increased waits when you request or hold books online, due to "consolidation" of delivery hubs.
  • Similar "consolidation" of collection development - the staff who make sure your local branch has the most suitable collection of books - and Home Library Services.

Librarians make libraries

Meanwhile, the decreasing jobs that are left aren't being valued.

For years, the TPL has been moving towards staffing the library with more and more low-paid part-timers. Of just over 2300 library staff...

  • half are part-time, and
  • three quarters are women.
  • Part-timers already have a hard time getting enough hours to make a living wage.
  • Cuts - whether through a budget or a contract talk - affect these workers first.

And your services suffer disproportionately as a result. Since libraries are losing more and more full-time experienced staff, they're relying more on 'Pages' - originally temp positions for students that have morphed over the years into permanent low-paying jobs. The work is being pushed down onto pages, for less reward.

It's been made clear that as the current contract talks deepen, the employer will seek to make the TPL rely even further on precarious part-time labour. And this also makes future cuts even easier.

Let's keep the public in the Toronto Public Library

Thanks to community action, we were spared many budget cuts to open hours and branches - but 107 staff positions were lost.

The books and other resources at your local branch used to be tailored directly to your community. That's no longer the case, and as we keep losing staff it's set to get worse. Library services are becoming increasingly less responsive to individual community needs. By negotiating for better working conditions, library workers are also negotiating for better services.

Contact Information

  • CUPE Communications
    Cim Nunn