Vancouver Island Regional Library’s union employees may hit the picket lines on Wednesday, March 9. (Gazette file)

Vancouver Island Regional Library’s union employees may hit the picket lines on Wednesday, March 9. (Gazette file)

Vancouver Island Regional Library staff set to strike Wednesday

Gap widening on new BCGEU-VIRL collective agreement

Picket lines are set to go up at Vancouver Island library branches starting Wednesday.

Vancouver Island Regional Library officials say they are “disappointed” in the direction talks with its BCGEU employees have headed.

The collective agreement between the VIRL and BC General Employees’ Union Local 702 expired on Dec. 31, 2020 and the two sides have been bargaining since September 2021.

The BCGEU received a new offer from their employer on March 1 after they issued a strike notice — an offer the union believes failed to “go far enough on wages given members’ working conditions.”

“Librarians don’t want job action,” said BCGEU President Stephanie Smith. “They want respect from their employer. Yet all they’ve received is delays, unfair proposals and disrespectful treatment – and that’s just during bargaining.”

The union sent a counter offer, but that offer was “disappointing”, according to VIRL spokesperson David Carson.

“The British Columbia General Employees’ Union Local 702 has counter offered with wage increases greater than those the union had previously identified it would accept,” said a media release issued by Carson. “Vancouver Island Regional Library is disappointed that BCGEU appears to be moving away from the opportunity to achieve an agreement which is in the interest of all parties.”

On Feb. 22 the union — which represents 42 full time employees, or 12 per cent of VIRL’s permanent workforce — announced it had voted 95 per cent in favour of job action and two days later, the BCGEU served 72-hour strike notice.

VIRL’s CUPE Local 401 employees, which represents 55 per cent of VIRL’s permanent workforce — will honour any BCGEU picket lines. Near the end of 2021, VIRL had jointly ratified a collective agreement with CUPE 401.

“Job action may include primary, secondary or rotational picketing at VIRL locations,” said a previous press release issued by Carson, the director of corporate communications for VIRL. “As a result, we regret that VIRL’s service delivery will be impacted, though precise impacts remain unclear at this time. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, and commit to continuing constructive efforts towards bargaining resolution with our valued colleagues.”

Picket lines are likely to be in place Wednesday, March 9.

Meanwhile, VIRL’s librarians sent a group letter to the organization’s 38 trustees “to ensure that librarians’ next collective agreement provides them with fundamental supports – including a psychologically safe and respectful workplace, and wages that align with other libraries and lessen the impact of cost of living and inflation – and pressure the employer, who they oversee, to return to the table and mitigate picket lines and impacts on the community.”

They encourage members of the community to write similar letters to their local library trustee in support.

VIRL employees who belong to BCGEU Local 702 are professional librarians and colleagues who work at 20 of 39 branches, and in the VIRL’s Information Technology, Collections, and Support Services divisions.



sarah.simpson@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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