Library Workers Reject Offer In Supervised Vote

CUPE Local 2974 spokesperson Lori Wightman address Essex County Council on October 19, 2016. (Photo by Ricardo Veneza)

The results of Tuesday morning’s vote on the latest offer from the Essex County Library Board wasn’t even close.

Striking library workers voted 48-7 against the proposal in a vote supervised by provincial officials. There are 57 members.

The result is no surprise to CUPE Local 2974 spokeswoman Lori Wightman who was adamant the bargaining unit has the backing of its members.

“They’ve always maintained that if only the members knew what the deal was, they would take it,” she says. “They obviously now know what the deal is and they said no. So, let’s get back to the table. Let’s get this resolved.”

The workers hit the picket line June 25 in a bitter dispute over sick time and short-term disability. The latest talks broke off November 25 when the two sides met with a provincial mediator.

However, Wightman isn’t deaf to a threat published in the media that the board will open library branches and operate them with management, and library board chair Richard Meloche doubts anything would come out of another round of bargaining.

“There’s no point in us calling them back to the table because the only issue here to decide is [about] the third-party insurer,” says Meloche.

He says the county is considering opening libraries on a rotating basis and offering basic services. It employs five managers with library experience and has 14 branches.

CUPE says it has offered flexibility by providing different proposals, but Meloche has been clear that all bargaining units with the county will be moved to a third-party insurer. He says the county stands to save more than $500,000 a year and insists he still doesn’t understand what the union is objecting to.

“We haven’t even received specifics from them,” he says. “What is it that you don’t like about [a] third-party insurer?”

With no end in sight, Wightman says she would not take arbitration off the table, but does not feel it is necessary.

“If they can come to the table, and negotiate fairly, and in good faith, and without dictating terms, we should be able to resolve this without doing that,” she says.

To a point, Meloche agrees. He says the trouble with submitting to an arbitrator is the process can be lengthy and unpredictable.