'I do not blame them': Springwater library staff unionize in response to council

Employees at Springwater Township’s public library are joining a union, a move they say was precipitated by the treatment they received from the local council.

According to a news release issued late Wednesday afternoon (May 29) by Adrian Graham, chair of the Springwater Public Library, library employees have voted to join the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) in response to recent interactions with township council.

Notification of the intent to join, and the outcome of the vote, held earlier this week, were shared with Jodie Delgado, chief executive officer of the Springwater Public Library, as well as members of the board.

All 13 staff members are included. The library's CEO is not.

“We respect the rights of library staff to investigate and subsequently join a union as this process is part of their rights under Canadian labour law,” Graham stated in the release.

“We would like to thank staff for letting us know the decision to join the union was not taken in response to any actions from the CEO or the board, but rather from the recent discussions and actions taken by the Springwater Township council," Graham added.

Delgado says she supports staff’s right to unionize and doesn’t foresee any issues that would impact the public.

“As for our programs and services, there will be no change,” she said. “Springwater Public Library staff are creative and dedicated to serving the community and we will all work together to ensure that the customer service and welcoming atmosphere that we are known for continues.”

CUPE’s lawyer, Dave Steele, said the library workers’ vote to join CUPE was “unanimous.”

Springwater Mayor Jennifer Coughlin saw this coming last year and tried to warn council, but to no avail.

At the Dec. 6, 2023 council meeting, prior to approving the 2024 budget, Coughlin predicted the future to a tee.

“This budget, in my opinion, reflects antiquated ideals, welcomes a union and encourages our talent to seek employment elsewhere,” she said at the time.

Coun. Brad Thompson, who is council’s representative on the library board, said he was disappointed with the decision by staff to unionize, but added he fully supports their direction.

“My hope was not to have created a need for a union in our library,” he wrote in an email to BarrieToday. “The obvious negative impact on taxpayers is that it is likely going to cost us more to provide the same level of service.”

The Ward 3 councillor said the unionization has already cost taxpayers money in legal expenses, as the library has had to hire a legal team to assist with the transition.

“Collective bargaining is likely to add more to the budget as I know that staff was not happy with the reduced (cost of living allowance) council voted in,” said Thompson, adding they had asked for 2.5 per cent increase, but council approved a two per cent hike.

Thompson said he assumes library staff will also be looking for improved working conditions, as the Elmvale branch has a roof and basement that leak, as well as lights that don’t work.

“Given how they have been treated and their jobs threatened, I do not blame them for voting in favour of a union,” Thompson said.

The Springwater Public Library has come under attack by various members of council since this council was elected in 2022.

Coun. Phil Fisher, in particular, has had ongoing issues with the library. They came to head at the Nov. 1, 2023 council meeting, when he floated the idea of contracting out library services.

With few details and no context for the request, Fisher’s comment, at the time, cranked up the innuendo and speculation among residents.

Some thought Fisher was calling for a closure of the township’s library, which he wasn’t, while others applauded his concern for taxpayers’ money.

His motion never materialized, leaving many in the community wondering about the library's fate.

Thompson made an attempt to get Fisher to update the status of his motion at the Jan. 17 council meeting, but was prevented from asking the question when it was challenged on a point of order by Coun. Anita Moore.

At the Feb. 21 council meeting, Mayor Coughlin advised council that the point of order that she upheld at that meeting was, in fact, not in contravention and invited Thompson to ask Fisher his question.

Thompson asked: “Where do you currently stand on your motion to get information on contracting out our library services?”

“It’s not that I have it in for the library,” Fisher said at the time. “I just have to say, the board and the fiscal management is well, it just doesn't make any sense to me.”

At the March 20 council meeting, the library board made a presentation that detailed their responsibilities, reporting process and status as an independent entity, not an arm of the township’s bureaucracy.

Fisher mined familiar ground following the presentation.

“My problem doesn’t lie with the library; my problem lies with the fact that we, as a council, are not allowed, seemingly, to question the finances behind the library,” he said at the March 20 meeting. “Whether it’s $5,000 or $50,000, it has to be accounted for. I always feel when myself or another member of council questions the budget or questions things that surround the library, it feels like we’re told we’re not allowed to ask.

“Yes, you are separate, but you still come to us for the budget,” Fisher added.

According to Graham’s release, there will be no change in the way services and programs are offered at the three Springwater library branches as the library works through the process moving forward.

“Patrons can still expect the high level of customer services, programs and other services,” Graham said.

The Springwater Public Library has 13 permanent staff, not including the CEO. Its three branches are located in Elmvale, Midhurst and Minesing.

Wayne Doyle, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BarrieToday.com