Rally Round the Library Workers
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Rally Round the Library Workers

As a strike/lockout deadline looms this weekend, supporters of CUPE Local 4948 gathered outside the Toronto Reference Library.

“Precarious working conditions make for a precarious life.” That’s how Maureen O’Reilly, president of the Toronto Public Library Workers’ Union, CUPE Local 4948, summed up the concerns of part-time Toronto Public Library workers at a rally outside the Toronto Reference Library earlier this afternoon. Flags bearing logos of CUPE and other supportive labour organizations dotted the crowd, which had gathered at the corner of Yonge Street and Asquith Avenue. Attendees had come to support library workers facing a legal deadline that will put them in a strike/lockout position as of midnight Sunday.

O’Reilly’s statement was supported by librarian Mary Bissell, who outlined the conditions she and her fellow part-timers endure. Part-time work is one of union’s key grievances in its negotiations with the city. According to Bissell, half of the library’s staff are part-timers, who often have difficulty coordinating other part-time work due to the TPL’s habit of scheduling three-and-a-half hour shifts up to five days a week. Among them are library pages, who traditionally were high school students. Now, many of those jobs are held by adults who stay in the role because they can’t move into full-time positions. Bissell also noted that many part-timers can’t afford to pay into benefit and pension plans—while she pays into the pension, Bissell expects the payout is “not going to be pretty.”

Robert Priest addresses the rally.

The speakers also included two library users. Literacy worker Guy Ewing mentioned the union’s role in fighting proposed cuts to TPL’s budget this year. He backed union calls for library users to contact the library board and City Council, in order to show support for the workers.

Poet Robert Priest described how the librarians who worked in the bookmobile he patronized as a child in Scarborough developed his love of reading, especially when they introduced him to the Narnia series. “I think that feeling of community which I felt with librarians,” Priest said, “is an essential part of the library experience for the flow of information in general.” He felt that if further staffing cuts turned the TPL into “a big book warehouse that’s about as customer-serviced as your local Home Depot,” the next generation of readers would be cheated out of discoveries similar to his.

“Libraries ain’t gravy,” he said.

Photos by Jamie Bradburn/Torontoist.