Wednesday March 9, 2022 | DUNCAN, BC
by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends
There were three librarians and up to 10 CUPE members on the picket line at the Cowichan Branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library in Duncan today.
Librarians in BCGEU Local 702 are protesting the working conditions during the pandemic (where they in many cases took a download of responsibility for government ministries whose offices were open but preferring online contact) and are seeking a pay raise (to keep up with the cost of living that is impacting pretty much everyone on south Vancouver Island and across BC).
On February 25, BCGEU filed 72-hour strike notice. Job action could legally begin at 8 am on March 2.
There are 48 librarians working in the VIRL system, of which 43 are permanent and the others part-time.
Good visibility at Cowichan Branch:
This is the first day of a visible picket line at libraries in the Vancouver Island Regional Library system.
They chose the Cowichan Branch in Duncan to have enough participants and a workable area, said Jen Seper, VIRL librarians bargaining committee chairperson and spokesperson. Seper herself works at one of the Nanaimo branches.
Located in a small local business complex on James Street, the Cowichan Branch allowed for no obstruction to two other services including a COVID immunization clinic.
People honked horns as they drove by. “Some circled around and brought us coffee and donuts,” said Seper this afternoon.
She said the entire job action scene was positive and upbeat, that people going by expressed appreciation for their local library. One person said she recognized the voice of a librarian who had helped her on the phone the day before, and thanked her.
There was conversation about why the strike was happening. People had thoughtful questions.
“It’s important to members that we have a wage that shows our employer values us and our skills and the work we do in our community. And that we can afford to live. It’s the same as other British Columbians right now,” said Seper.
No less than creative signage from librarians!
Creative signage was at the scene, being carried or worn as placards by librarians out the front of the library:
- “If librarians are loud, you know it’s bad!”
- “Ssshhh… hopefully a deal in progress!”
- “Libraries work because we do.”
Further job action:
There are no details yet as to the next step in job action, if there is any. Regarding taking job action today: “We’re hoping that will be enough,” said Seper.
If there is more job action it will be at one library at a time, to minimize disruption of library services, she told Island Social Trends today.
On Monday March 7, the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) said that the BCGEU wage counterproposal signals movement away from an agreement.
That’s when BCGEU decided to call the strike action that began today.
“We’re hoping for another offer,” said BCGEU local rep Jen Seper today. “We don’t want to be on the picket lines. We value libraries in our communities,” she told Island Social Trends today.
- September 2021: VIRL and BCGEU had been bargaining the expired BCGEU Collective Agreement (January 1, 2016 – December 31, 2020) since September, 2021.
- On Tuesday, February 22, BCGEU notified VIRL that its members had voted 95% in favour of a strike mandate.
- On February 25, BCGEU filed 72-hour strike notice.
- On Monday, February 28, 2022, VIRL’s Executive Committee provided guidance to VIRL management on a renewed bargaining mandate. The assigned Labour Relations Board mediator was re-engaged soon thereafter.
- On March 01, VIRL offered a new proposal through the assigned Labour Relations Board mediator.
- March 2 at 8 am: Local 702 librarians could legally commence job action.
- March 3: VIRL learned that members of the British Columbia General Employees’ Union (BCGEU) Local 702 at Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) had rejected the employer’s March 01, 2022 proposal.
- On March 3, librarians in Local 702 wrote a group letter to all trustees of the VIRL board [see letter – PDF].
- March 4: BCGEU said librarians working in VIRL would begin escalated job action starting Wednesday March 9 “should they not receive a serious offer from the employer”.
- March 7: BCGEU confirms that job action will commence March 9.
- March 9: Picket line outside the Cowichan Branch in Duncan.
First picket by Local 702 librarians starts March 9 (March 7, 2022)
VIRL offer to Local 702 librarians includes non-monetary provisions (March 4, 2022)
VIRL offer not fair or respectful says BCGEU (March 3, 2022)
VIRL & BCGEU librarians back to the table (March 2, 2022)
Vancouver Island librarians ‘learned their worth’ during COVID (March 1, 2022)
Vancouver Island librarians going on strike (February 28, 2022)