Friday March 18, 2022 | SOOKE, BC [Last updated March 22, 2022] | NOTE: Pickets on Mon March 21: Nanaimo North, Nanaimo Harbourfront, and Creativity Commons branches. | Pickets on Tues March 22: Nanaimo Harbourfront and Creativity Commons, Campbell River, and Sidney/North Saanich.
by Mary P Brooke, Editor | Island Social Trends
Over the course of today there were about 15 participants on the BCGEU picket line out front of new Sooke Library (for duration of normal operating hours), as part of ongoing job action during negotiations with the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL).
Everyone was in a cheerful mood. Some drivers honked as they drove past. Some members of the public stopped to chat and some brought donuts.
The strike was set to last for full operational hours of the branch (10 am to 5 pm). Same for the other four VIRL branches with picket lines today (Port Hardy, Comox, Qualicum Beach, and South Cowichan).
Long Sooke Library history:
This is one more significant day in the long pathway to Sooke getting a new library. Discussions started back around 2009 in the Sooke community, led by VIRL but deeply integrated with the District of Sooke.
The new library finally opened for operations last month after those 13 years. The official grand opening was going to be coming soon, on March 26, but that festive Sooke Library Grand Opening event has now been postponed, it was revealed by VIRL last week.
Job action by 48 librarians:
Sooke branch librarian Peter Macguire was on hand with fellow strikers today. Librarians are members of BCGEU Local 702 and front line staffers in libraries are members of CUPE, explained Macguire (who is also on the Local 702 bargaining committee).
There are four librarians at the Sooke branch, of the 48 librarians across VIRL (43 of which are full-time).
Efforts during the pandemic:
During the pandemic in particular, librarians ended doing a lot of high-level consultation support for library patrons, considerably beyond their usual load. Helping people navigate the online applications for various pandemic supports became a significant load for librarians.
According to Macguire, the overload experience of VIRL librarians during the pandemic was noted by the American Library Association who apparently noted the VIRL librarian efforts to get computer equipment into remote branches so that people would have access to pandemic supports and other information.
During the strike today there was no staff to operate the branch, so it was closed; the doors were locked, Macquire specified.
A few members of the public who came to drop off books were unaware that the library was closed today, and some were upset about that, he said.
“We don’t want to be closing libraries,” Macguire told Island Social Trends. “We’re gutted that it’s come to this.”
He outlined that a picket line is the union’s “prerogative” and that “it’s the only thing we’ve got left”.
The breakdown in negotiations has come over the level of wage increase being asked for by the union. VIRL management says they feel they’ve made a generous offer but that small rural communities cannot afford hefty levy increases in their communities.
“Hopefully there will be a response from VIRL today,” said Macguire.
Job action profile:
Job action was first possible on March 2. At first librarians wore union buttons. Then picket lines were held at just one branch at a time (at the branches in Duncan, Chemanius, Ladysmith and Sidney/North Saanich, Campbell River and Port McNeill).
On March 16, BCGEU president Stephanie Smith joined the picket line at the Sidney/North Saanich branch.
Today was the shift to picket lines at multiple branches, all day long (Port Hardy, Comox, Qualicum Beach, Sooke, and South Cowichan).
Higher wages and board-level decisions:
VIRL revenues include a property owner tax levy each year, as collected by municipalities and then turned over to VIRL. If if there were room for increased expenditure on wages, it would require the VIRL board to take the risk — based on assumptions — that member municipalities would be able to institute more library levies upon their taxpayers.
VIRL directors are representatives of the municipal councils whose communities have a VIRL library branch. The VIRL list of local library branches shows 38 communities (Nanaimo has two branches, and the other ‘branches’ are Books By Mail and online and related services).
In recent weeks, librarians have encouraged members of the community to contact their municipal councils to voice their opinion about the importance of libraries and librarians. VIRL board members are listed on the VIRL website.
Bright yellow tent:
There was a bright yellow BCGEU tent set up outside the Sooke Library branch front door. The weather was cool and a bit misty under grey skies, but rain for the most part held off.
Strikers were stocked up with food and snacks. They took turns being on the sidewalk through the seven-hour day. At least one striker had their dog along for the day, and another their 10-month-old son in a stroller.
Old Sooke library:
The old Sooke library was situated in a leased premises on Anna Marie Road, almost around the corner from the new branch.
Today that building was undergoing some cleaning and servicing.
===== ABOUT THE WRITER:
Island Social Trends Editor Mary P Brooke has been writing about socioeconomic trends in the south Vancouver Island region since 2008, including a focus on Sooke and the west shore.
Island Social Trends was previously MapleLine Magazine (in print 2008-2010), Sooke Voice News (print and online 2011-2013), and West Shore Voice News (print, PDF and online 2014-2020). Archive copies are available to purchase upon request.
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Vancouver Island librarians going on strike (February 28, 2022)
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