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'It's about respect': Bradford library, union return to bargaining table

Today marks Day 27 of the strike, which makes it one of the longest library worker strikes in Ontario history, says union

Bradford’s library labour dispute might be turning a corner, but not without more pressure from the union and workers first.

By 9 a.m. Wednesday morning, both the union and the employer are expected to be back at the negotiating table at the request of the employer, with a mediator appointed by the Ministry of Labour.

Workers at the Bradford West Gwillimbury Public Library have been on strike since July 21 when negotiations over their first collective agreement came to a head.

“BWGPL is committed to working hard to achieve an agreement and get our library workers back to work,” Matthew Corbett, library CEO, said in an email.

Corbett didn’t answer questions about whether or not the library would make a new offer, and Katherine Grzejszczak, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 905, which is representing the 36 striking library workers, explained the union was contacted by the conciliator and asked to return to bargaining, but wouldn’t know for certain if a new deal was available until they attended the meeting.

“We’re basically coming to another day of bargaining because we’ve been told there is some other offer on the table for us. ... The indication is that there is an offer,” she said.

A representative at the Ministry of Labour clarified that the parties have moved on from conciliation and are now in the process of mediation, but added that the same person who acted as the conciliation officer is also acting as the mediator.

One potential indication of a new offer came from Licinio Miguelo, chair of the library board, who confirmed the board held a virtual closed-session meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 9 to discuss library labour relations.

Even as both parties return to the table, Grzejszczak explained that until the members ratify a new deal, the picket will continue.

“It’s extremely unfortunate that council has dragged their feet for the last four weeks and this library has stayed closed,” she said.

Wednesday marks Day 27 of the strike, which makes it one of the longest library worker strikes in Ontario history, with only Essex County’s 231-day strike, which ended in February 2017, being longer, according to the union.

Craig Saunders, CUPE communications officer, explained CUPE contains 77 library bargaining units in Ontario, with the Bradford strike being the first in five years in the province, and only the second one in a decade.

Despite being the exception, more than 40 workers and supporters were determined to set an example with a rally outside the Bradford and District Memorial Centre before the regular meeting of council Tuesday evening.

Grzejszczak opened the rally by thanking everyone for attending and drawing attention to length of the strike.

“That is 27 days too long to be asking for $1.35 wage increase in 2023 and another $1.35 in 2024. That is 27 days too long of the library being closed and of council and mayor burying their heads in the sand and not being able to find this magical $1.35 in order to resolve this labour dispute,” she said before leading the group in a chant.

Nina Brown, vice-president of CUPE Local 905, noted the resilience of workers and the significance of being on strike for 27 days, which is the same number of days in which the union engaged in bargaining from the time negotiations on the collective agreement began in September 2022 to when workers went on strike.

Grzejszczak then thanked other unions including Hamilton CUPE 932, Toronto & York Region Labour Council, Ontario Public Service Employees Union (UPSEU), the Ontario Labour Federation (OFL) and CUPE Ontario for their contributions and support before introducing library worker Wendy Zwaal, who spoke about the changes she has seen since workers joined the union.

“In the past two years I have seen this group become organized confident individuals. They have regained their voice, they’ve become leaders, they’ve grown in ways I’m amazed with ... and whatever happens today, tomorrow or whatever, you are an incredible team and you’re never going to be shoved back into the box where you’re going to be quiet or intimidated anymore,” she said.

Several councillors were also confronted by the rally participants on their way into the council meeting, including Mayor James Leduc, Deputy Mayor Raj Sandhu, councillors Peter Dykie, Joseph Giordano and Nickolas Harper — all of whom were asked if they supported the $1.35 figure.

Most suggested the matter should be discussed at the bargaining table and only Harper stopped to provide his opinion on the matter.

“I don’t support $1.35, but I do support workers fighting for a livable wage in our economic pressures as they are,” he said.

When Grzejszczak pointed out that the $1.35 increase was needed for a livable wage, Harper continued on his way into the meeting, and speaker Laurie Nancekivell, first vice-president and treasurer of OPSEU, noted the difference between an attempt at a result and accomplishing said result.

“What I just heard is that there is support for you to try to get proper wages. I never heard that he supports you getting proper wages,” she said.

Another speaker, Andria Babbington, president of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, expressed her anger over the ongoing dispute.

“I’m so friggin’ mad. ... This is the reason why people form unions. It’s not just about money; it’s about respect. They showed no respect. ... Look at them and the way they think it’s OK for you to go out as volunteer workers. I’m so angry at these suckers,” she said in reference to the councillors who passed by the rally.

Emotions continued to run high as workers and supporters once again packed into the Don Harrison Auditorium to participate in open forum.

Prior to the start of the meeting, Councillor Peter Ferragine could be heard on a hot mic saying “a lot of it’s all going to be wasted time on open forum.”

Leduc began the meeting by suspending the procedural bylaw and extending the time for speakers to 40 minutes, which allowed 11 people to speak on the issue of the library strike.

First among them was longtime Bradford resident Leni Vander Kooij who shared her experience supporting the library workers by corresponding with council and the library board.

While Vander Kooij said she received responses from most of council, she focused on one particular response from the mayor, which she found disrespectful to workers and residents.

“He wrote, and I quote ... ‘I’m sorry that you feel that way. All of what you’ve been told is propaganda by a union that came into our town, went to the library and signed up some women who really didn’t understand what they were getting into,’ ” she read from Leduc’s response.

Vander Kooij countered that she does not listen to propaganda, but she does listen to workers.

“I heard employees who were not wooed by the union, but who went to the union, because no one listened to their needs and concerns,” she said, adding that the workers simply want a pay that allows them to afford food, housing and other essentials — a cost that is increasing for everyone.

During open forum, a worker also presented the mayor with a petition the union had been circulating in support of library workers that had gathered 1,100 signatures, according to the worker.

Another resident, Jeanette Paule, spoke about how integral the library was to her and her effort to overcome postpartum depression.

“As I fought this darkness the kids and I would go to the library once, twice three times a week. ... What would have happened to me, if the library had been closed because of $1.35 an hour?” she asked while fighting back tears.

Paule also took issue with the way the potential increase to the library’s tax rate over two years was communicated to the public.

“If my math is correct, and I had it checked, that 5.2 per cent increase would amount to $10 on a $5,000 property tax bill. Ten dollars to reopen the only remaining space in our society where a purchase is not necessary to exist there,” she said.

The clerk also read two written submissions after which the mayor thanked everyone for their participation.

“Your voices are not falling on deaf ears. We hear you, and we hope tomorrow you’re back at the table at nine o’clock. We look forward to a resolution so everyone can get back to the library we all love. ... We love our staff. We respect our staff and we hope you give us time and patience,” he said.

After the meeting, Leduc answered questions about the letter he sent to Vander Kooij.

“I receive so many emails from people and I’ve been responding to as many as I can ... I do my best to make sure I deliver the best information I can, and if I used the word propaganda, then I used the word propaganda. Sometimes my emotions get in the way,” he said.

The mayor also clarified that he meant information can be misused and misinterpreted.

“I just wanted people to understand the union is not giving us 100 per cent accuracy. ... It’s not that anybody is lying; it’s just numbers can tell different stories at different times,” he said.

While the collective agreement would be overseen by the town’s library board, the funding for the board and approval of board decisions comes from council.

Library board members include Licinio Miguelo, chair; Ward 1 Councillor Cheraldean Duhaney, vice-chair; Ward 4 Councillor Joseph Giordano; Ferguson Mobbs; Jen Turner; Diana Sheeler and Dillon McDowell.

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Michael Owen

About the Author: Michael Owen

Michael Owen has worked in news since 2009 and most recently joined Village Media in 2023 as a general assignment reporter for BradfordToday
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