VIRL re-engaging mediator as librarians’ strike reaches one-month mark

·2 min read

After a month of picket lines and weeks of no talks, Vancouver Island Regional Library announced it was re-engaging the assigned Labour Relations Board mediator in an attempt to come to a deal with BCGEU-represented librarians. Shortly after, BCGEU said a tentative agreement had been reached.

The announcement followed a VIRL board of trustees meeting held April 9.

“We are grateful for staff’s tireless commitment through the pandemic, and the many challenges they face in their service to the public,” Gaby Wickstrom, VIRL board chair said via press release. “As trustees in charge of administering VIRL’s budget, part of our job is to ensure fair wage increases for staff while balancing the financial burden to our communities. The long shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbates these challenges, but the board is confident that a resumption of cooperative bargaining will lead us to a mutually acceptable outcome.”

The 48 BCGEU-represented librarians employed by VIRL have written to the board three times, requesting it give its negotiating team a new wage mandate. On April 6, BCGEU told the Sounder the last communication librarians received from the board was March 18 in response to the group’s second letter. BCGEU continued to call for a new wage mandate over the weekend and said librarians want compensation to be comparable to other library systems in the province and that addresses the rising cost of living in the region.

On the evening of April 11, BCGEU sent out a tweet saying a tentative agreement had been reached between librarians and VIRL. "Job action on pause while members discuss and vote on agreement in coming days,' the tweet said.

Job action began on March 9 and ramped up on March 30 when all BCGEU-member librarians working for the regional library system went on strike meaning even branches that had been open during the rotating picket lines had no librarians working. On April 5, the Gabriola Island branch along with the Campbell River, Qualicum Beach and Sooke branches were closed as a result of the picket lines. Four BCGEU librarians and five CUPE members, non-librarian VIRL staff, participated in the job action on Gabriola. Later in the week, all three branches in Nanaimo numbered among the closed branches, and on Saturday, BCGEU hosted a free story time reading in Cumberland’s Village Square.

VIRL-employed librarians have been working without a contract since December 2020. Bargaining began in September 2021 but reached an impasse with a mediator in February. Librarians then voted 95 per cent in favour of striking.

Rachelle Stein-Wotten, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder

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