Greater Victoria library workers reject contract offer, vote for strike action

Greater Victoria library workers have voted 88 per cent in favour of strike action after rejecting employer concession demands, their union said Monday.

CUPE 410 said talks broke down Saturday between the workers and representatives of the Greater Victoria Public Library and the Greater Victoria Labour Relations Association, which is the bargaining agent for public-sector employers in the capital region.

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Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch, who chairs the association’s board, said the employer has asked the B.C. Labour Relations Board to appoint a mediator.

“The strike vote may come into effect, but we are going to mediation first,” he said. “So that’s really our focus, to go to mediation and try to find a settlement that meets the needs of both parties.”

He declined to provide details of the negotiations.

“Generally speaking, it’s just not helpful to discuss specifics with the media,” he said.

Helen Hughes, president of CUPE 410, said the library presented its workers with a list of concession demands after more than a year of bargaining.

“The employer refuses to move on its concession demands and refuses to answer key questions about sweeping changes proposed to scheduling and use of auxiliary workers,” she said in a statement.

The union represents about 240 workers at 12 branches. Hughes said in an interview that nearly 80 per cent of them cast ballots in the strike vote Sunday.

She stressed, however, that taking strike action would be a last resort.

“Taking my members off the job is the very last thing — the very last thing — that we want to do,” she said. “We are extremely hopeful that mediation will be positive and that workers are never going to have to put the strike mandate into effect.

“Our message really? We want to be here for the public. That’s why we’re public-library workers — to serve the people in our communities. And that’s what we want to be able to do, but we really need the employer’s co-operation so we can get to a fair settlement.”

The union said the library wants to save money by replacing existing employees with more “precarious” staff who get paid less and have fewer rights.

Library workers have been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2016, Hughes said.

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