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Union president raises possibility of Vancouver Island Regional Library system-wide strike

BCGEU job action targets Sidney/North Saanich branch librarians Tuesday in one-day strike
BC General Employees’ Union president Stephanie Smith joined union members including two librarians Tuesday on a picket line outside the Sidney/North Saanich branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library. The strike, part of a series of rotating job actions, closed the facility for the day. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

The rotating strike of librarians represented by the BC General Employees’ Union (BCGEU) closed the Sidney/North Saanich branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) system Tuesday.

BCGEU announced Feb. 22 that 95 per cent of Local 702 members representing 42 full-time employees (12 per cent of VIRL’s permanent workforce) had voted in favour of job action. The union issued 72-hour strike notice Feb. 24.

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

Various communities on Vancouver Island have seen escalating job action since March 9.

On Tuesday about two dozen BCGEU members, including two librarians, picketed outside VIRL’s Sidney/North Saanich branch on Resthaven Drive, drawing approving honks and waves from passing motorists and pedestrians. The job action, which also included members from CUPE, closed the library for the day. The branch had remained open prior to the start of job actions.

RELATED: Vancouver Island Regional Library staff set to strike Wednesday

BCGEU president Stephanie Smith told Black Press Media on Tuesday morning that the rotating job actions aim to minimize service disruptions, but also get VIRL back to the negotiating table.

“Libraries don’t want to be on the picket line, they want to be in the library providing supports for communities,” she said. “But if the employer, who doesn’t seem to care as much as our librarians do, doesn’t come back to the table, then at some point, we may have to look at a system-wide strike.”

Smith said her union is ready to get back to the table anytime.

BCGEU said on its website that librarians are seeking a deal that aligns their compensation with other libraries in the province and reflects the rising cost of living across Vancouver Island.

“I don’t think anybody is surprised at the rising cost of living,” said Smith. “It’s becoming untenable. Our librarians are already behind other librarians in other library systems. What we are looking for is inflation protection, we are looking for cost-of-living adjustments, because these workers are connected to their communities. They want to live and work in the communities they serve.”

In a press release issued Tuesday VIRL stated it is awaiting a revised counter-proposal from BCGEU Local 702 and looks forward to negotiating a mutually respectful agreement.

“On March 1, 2022, VIRL made its latest bargaining proposal to BCGEU Local 702. VIRL’s proposal includes librarian total compensation ahead of the sector average and beyond the levels BCGEU sought during the last round of bargaining. This offer has remained on the table since it was first proposed.”

The release acknowledged VIRL’s rejection of the most recent union counter-proposal due to what it called “its significant departure” on wage expectations.

“Unlike many other primarily urban library systems, 80 (per cent) of the communities VIRL serves are rural coastal communities, grappling with post-pandemic economic recovery,” VIRL stated. “An agreement must be sustainable for all the communities we serve. We hope BCGEU Local 702 will pause its service-impacting job action and return to the bargaining table with a revised counter-proposal.”

Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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