Job action has rotated through a number of locations as the Vancouver Island Regional Library contract dispute approaches the end of its second week. (John McKinley file)

Job action has rotated through a number of locations as the Vancouver Island Regional Library contract dispute approaches the end of its second week. (John McKinley file)

Librarians write to trustees, picket in front of branches as VIRL strike escalates

Occupational health and safety concerns among the central issues

By Rachelle Stein-Wotten, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter GABRIOLA SOUNDER

As BCGEU and librarians ramp up the pressure on Vancouver Island Regional Library board trustees to push library management to offer a new deal, VIRL reiterates that trustees do not have a direct role in bargaining.

“A library board has no direct role in bargaining, apart from approving annual budgets,” a VIRL spokesperson told the Sounder. “VIRL retains a contracted negotiator for collective bargaining.”

The 48 librarians who work for VIRL and are BCGEU members rejected the library’s March 1 offer saying in part that it did not address occupational health and safety concerns.

Asked for a response to this, VIRL told the Sounder: “It is undeniable that complex social issues have come to the fore in recent years, challenging front line service environments across the region and beyond.

“VIRL actively manages its access mandate and its health and safety environment. In this context, the in-branch security guard presence has been added or increased at two VIRL branches this year. In addition, VIRL’s dedicated health and safety staff work together with joint occupational safety and health committees — committees comprising of branch staff and management — on the co-development and continuous improvement of policy, practice, procedures, orientation and training.”

Job action by librarians began March 9 following no response from VIRL on a counter offer presented by BCGEU. In a news release, VIRL said the counter offer had wage increases “greater than those the union had previously identified it would accept.” On March 3, librarians sent a letter to the library system’s board of trustees calling for the board to intervene.

“We … find ourselves on the frontlines, dealing with the impacts of poverty, addiction, climate and mental health crises,” the letter says. “We struggle to manage in-branch overdose crises, violence and abuse with ever-increasing demands to fill gaps in the social safety net. Now we are dealing with all these issues during a global pandemic.

“As a result of your hired representatives’ disrespect for librarians, and the disrespect for your relationship with librarians through the bargaining process, we conducted a strike vote.”

BCGEU also compiled a list of trustees’ Twitter handles, calling on constituents to tweet their representatives with .respectVIRLlibrarians.

The librarians’ job action started with rotating pickets targeting single branches. This escalated to multiple branches from Sooke to Port Hardy Friday morning. Sites included Comox, Qualicum Beach and South Cowichan.

“If librarians are loud, you know it’s bad,” one librarian’s placard said.

BCEGU has said job action and picket lines could continue without an offer the union deems fair.

Library job action continues up and down Vancouver Island