Toronto's public library employees are prepared to strike next Monday but hope to reach an agreement instead.
The City and Toronto Public Library workers have four days to reach a new collective agreement before the strike and lockout deadline at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, May 2—and union representatives say the workers are willing to strike.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, CUPE Local 4948 president Maureen O’Reilly made clear that while she remains hopeful the union will reach an agreement with the library board before it’s necessary, the city’s roughly 2,300 library workers will not hesitate to withdraw their labour.
“Obviously in the world of labour relations a strike deadline is very meaningful,” O’Reilly says, “and unless real progress is being made at that time, we will exercise our right to [strike].”
Before then, the union will be increasing its appeal to the public with a series of ads and an event at Nathan Phillips Square on Saturday. Both the ads and the event are part of an effort to raise awareness of the current negotiations and to encourage supporters to push Mayor John Tory and the library board (of which Tory is a member) to reach a deal with the union.
The board is intent on extracting concessions from the workers, O’Reilly said, and has not been willing to discuss reversing what she called a “crisis” in both job security and library funding. While the union presented a pared-down version of its original contract offer to the board yesterday, O’Reilly says she’s not confident the board will accept it without further negotiation.
A board spokesperson did not answer a message requesting comment.
More than half of the workers at Toronto’s libraries are part-time, and it can take years to secure a full-time, permanent job. In an interview with Torontoist last month, O’Reilly discussed further the precarious nature of library workers’ employment. On Wednesday, she echoed these thoughts, noting that the bulk of library workers in the city are women and young people, two groups who experience a disproportionate amount of economic insecurity.
CUPE 4948’s own polling suggests public support for its workers is already abundant: 90 per cent of respondents to a poll last week agreed that the library’s frontline workers “are important to the quality of service” at the library, while more than 70 per cent who expressed an opinion on the matter said there should be more full-time jobs for library workers.