CUPE’s Lisa Wilson (left) and Jennifer Collison (right) were among the union members showing solidarity with BCGEU member Sharon Walker in front of the Sidney/North Saanich branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library, which was closed due to job action on Tuesday (March 22). Branches in Nanaimo and Campbell River were also the site of rotating job action. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

CUPE’s Lisa Wilson (left) and Jennifer Collison (right) were among the union members showing solidarity with BCGEU member Sharon Walker in front of the Sidney/North Saanich branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library, which was closed due to job action on Tuesday (March 22). Branches in Nanaimo and Campbell River were also the site of rotating job action. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Job action affecting Island library system hits Sidney, Campbell River, Nanaimo

BCGEU, Vancouver Island Regional Library set to resume negotiations Tuesday evening

The Sidney/North Saanich branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) was closed due to job action Tuesday, ahead of an evening meeting planned with representatives of BCGEU and the employer.

The local VIRL branch was among three – the others being Campbell River and Nanaimo Harbourfront – where actions took place March 22.

Various communities on Vancouver Island have seen job action since March 9, including two such actions in the past week at the branch in Sidney.

A statement from BCGEU to Black Press Media said the union is rotating pickets amongst VIRL branches to maximize the message to the employer that they are serious, but also to minimize the impact on any one community.

“We’ve received overwhelming support from library users, and sincerely thank Sidney/North Saanich residents for their ongoing support,” it reads.

David Carson, VIRL’s director of corporate communications and strategic initiatives, said it respects the rights of members to picket and remains hopeful that a mutually agreeable resolution will be found soon.

“We reached out to the union and they accepted our proposal to return to mediated bargaining. We see this as a positive sign that the two sides can once again move closer to an agreement,” he said.

The BCGEU statement also references the upcoming negotiations. “We’re hopeful that tonight’s meeting (Tuesday) with the employer will lead to them making a fair offer that will lead to a fair collective agreement for our members. However, if we don’t receive a fair and respectful offer tonight, we will escalate our job action.”

According to Carson, the Sidney/North Saanich branch has averaged about 235 people a day since the beginning of 2022.

“Since the strike has so far been rotating, residents as always can visit other VIRL branches,” said Carson, noting that locations in Mill Bay and Sooke are the nearest alternatives. “VIRL’s eLibrary has been unaffected by the strike and anyone with a VIRL card can visit virl.bc.ca to access thousands of ebooks, audiobooks, streaming content, and much more.”

RELATED: Fellow BCGEU members join Sidney/North Saanich branch librarians in one-day strike

RELATED: Job action looms for Vancouver Island Regional Library employees

BCGEU announced Feb. 22 that 95 per cent of Local 702 members, representing 42 full-time employees (12 per cent of VIRL’s permanent workforce), had voted in favour of job action. The union issued 72-hour strike notice Feb. 24.

The collective agreement between the VIRL and BC General Employees’ Union Local 702 expired Dec. 31, 2020 and the two sides have been bargaining since September 2021.

BCGEU said on its website that librarians are seeking a deal that aligns their compensation with other libraries in the province and reflects the rising cost of living across Vancouver Island.

VIRL said earlier that 80 (per cent) of the communities VIRL serves are rural coastal communities, grappling with post-pandemic economic recovery in calling for an agreement sustainable for all the communities.

The current labour dispute has also put grand opening celebrations for the new Sooke VIRL branch, previously slated for March 26, on hold. “Ongoing job action means that a new date is in the best interest of everyone involved,” VIRL said in a statement.

The new branch opened on Feb. 25 and has seen a surge in card registrations, according to VIRL, which pegs total signups since the opening at 597.


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wolfgang.depner@peninsulanewsreview.com

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