What now for Toronto librarians?
As has been reported elsewhere this week, 2,400 Toronto city librarians and other library workers have abandoned membership in the Toronto Civic Employees Union (TCEU) Local 416. Last Tuesday, a total of 1,309 library employees cast votes on whether to stay or leave, and an overwhelming 1,037 voted in favour of leaving and forming their own union.
“The simple [explanation] is we want to speak for ourselves as library workers,” says Rob Rolfe, chair of the TCEU’s library division. “We’ll devote our time to library workers’ issues rather than splitting it between library workers and outside workers.” Up until now, Local 416 represented not just librarians and other library employees, but all forms of city employees – a set-up which caused many library workers to feel ignored or marginalized.
The impetus for the split, according to Rolfe, was the recent departure of former Local 416 president Brian Cochrane. When Cochrane was in charge, says Rolfe, library workers felt like they were being looked out for. This hasn’t been the case, however, with new president Mark Ferguson, who took charge at the end of last year.
Chief among the library workers concerns are a 20% reduction in the library workforce since 1990; jobs being increasingly left vacant to meet budget concerns; and a lack of recognition of librarian specialization. As an illustration of that latter point, Rolfe points to current union rules that state that a children’s librarian can be forcibly shifted into an adult role, the assumption being that the positions are effectively the same.
Going forward, plans for a new city librarian’s union must wait until the national executive board for CUPE, of which the TCEU is a member, formally approves the vote and issues a new charter. Rolfe hopes the step will be accomplished “within a month or so.”
Whenever the new union finally takes shape, Rolfe says he doesn’t expect the transition to be too difficult. The TCEU ran its divisions separately, he explains, so in terms of bargaining positions, little will change. “We had different employers – they had the city of Toronto, we have the Toronto Public Library Board – so we had different collective agreements,” says Rolfe. “We bargained separately, although we did it under the umbrella of local 416.”