Greater Victoria Library Lockout

This type of library website might be an all too familiar sight for residents of British Columbia, one of four Canadian provinces without pay equity legislation.

Just a few months after Vancouver librarians returned to the job after a strike, Greater Victoria’s nine public library branches are now closed indefinitely, leaving the public without services thanks to the lockout of almost 300 unionized workers.

It all began on September 7, when, after contract negotiations that had already been dragging on for eight months stalled, the union began escalating strike actions: rotating strikes, lunch hour closures, and waiving fines and fees for patrons.

No, on second thought, scratch that. It began over a decade ago, when, as part of an agreement that ended a 1992 strike, the GVPL board and CUPE 410 agreed to compare library jobs with comparable other city jobs and reclassify them to achieve pay (gender) equity between equivalent jobs. The “due date” on this agreement was extended from 1994 to 1996…and today in 2008 still has not been completed.

Oh, well, but really, it goes back waaay farther than that…to the concurrent feminization of the profession and market uptake of the Ford Motor Company’s $5/day “family wage” ideology — for male workers only. But that’s a topic expansion for another post, I suppose (the to-do list for the SJL blog just keeps growing…).

Back to 2008: Key issues in the current labour dispute in Victoria are…wait for it…treatment of auxiliaries and pay equity! Shocked aren’t you? Is it just me, or is this almost deja va all over again?

Weighing on my mind, also, is the issue of the Labour Relations Board telling library staff they cannot waive fines for patrons. Waiving fines when appropriate is important autonomy for library workers to have, in terms of institutional accessibility to poor, young, and other socially marginalized members of the community. While it could be argued that a campaign of mass fine-waiving to the tune of ~$50,000/month is a different issue from considering individual cases, I could say we are in slippery-slope territory with this one.

The CUPE local 410 website is keeping us posted. Today is day 415 without a contract, day 166 since strike actions began, and day 3 since the lockout began. The Overdue.ca website has a bunch of background info on the pay equity promise in Victoria, including a comparison study done in 2000 that shows the disparity between library jobs and comparable city hall jobs. Unsurprisingly, it’s the lowest paid/lowest status jobs (pages) that get screwed the most.

Let’s speak in solidarity with our library sistren.*
-Greyson
*Yes, sistren is a word, albeit an archaic one. Brethren just didn’t sound right when talking about pay equity, you know, and according to AskOxford.com, sistren was the Middle English equivalent of brethren that has been “revived” by some feminists, so have at it.
Follow-up post can be found here.
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3 Comments

Filed under gender, labour issues, The Profession

3 responses to “Greater Victoria Library Lockout

  1. Pingback: Victoria Library Lockout resolved « Social Justice Librarian

  2. Squished Little Guy

    So the lockout is over and some months later, everyone is back at work. That’s good. What’s not good is the outcome for some of the loyal library patrons.

    Imagine my surprise when I discovered I had over $170 in library fines! The Saturday before the lockout, I chanced to be in the library, so quickly, I stocked up on all the books I could carry. I wasn’t going to spend some unknown amount of time without reading materials!

    The lockout carried on and eventually, I read all the books. I packed them all in a bag by my front door and waited for the strike to end. Finally the strike ended and I heard the call to return the books, so off I went to the library only to discover that I had the dates wrong – and in fact, I was now a week past the deadline instead of bang on time as I thought!

    The result – I not only didn’t get the amnesty applied to my fines, I got hit with over $170 in fines.

    I went to the library today to see how much I could get it lowered because, frankly, $170 is a very large hit on my monthly income of just over $1600 that supports both my daughter and me. After much discussion, I got it reduced to $50.

    Some would point out that $50 is much better than $170, but the reality is that thanks to the lockout, I’m now on a payment plan – with no ability to take out books – until about September.

    Frankly, it makes it very hard to support the library union and the plight of the average library worker when I just got my library privileges revoked as a result of the lockout.

    Just as a kicker in the whole she-bang, as soon as I got my fines reduced to $50, I paid $5.00 towards the total fine, but when I came home to look at my account balance, I see I got credited a dollar.

    So, I’m largely unimpressed by the whole thing. Next strike or lockout, I’m crossing the picket line and dumping my books on the doorstep.

  3. greyson

    Dear LittleGuy,

    I hear your frustration with the library fines you’ve gotten.

    While I understand that in certain circumstances they have a useful role to play, I dislike library fines too. I hate to charge them; I hate to have to pay them. I hate the way that people are often made to feel guilty about racking up fines. I hate the way they add up so fast when you have a lot of stuff out.

    On the other hand, I LOVE it when library systems decide not to charge fines for children’s materials – in my opinion that is absolutely the way to go: encouraging parents to get books for their kids risk-free, regardless of socioeconomic status.

    I checked the website and see that the GVPL policy is to put a hold on borrowing privileges after $10 in fines. I agree that this cutoff bar seems low – it doesn’t take long, at $0.30/book/day, to rack up such a tab. That said, I don’t think that your frustration with your library fines should necessarily be directed at the formerly-locked-out library workers. The frontline staff who do the dirty work of cutting off people’s borrowing privileges in accordance with the policies of the institution are rarely involved in setting the policies they must enforce.

    $50 is indeed much better than $170. Again, I don’t know how much autonomy the person who reduced your fine had, or what all your personal circumstances/borrowing history may be. I do know that waiving of patron library fines by library workers was a very contentious part of the strike action that preceded the lockout, and would expect that it could have been a somewhat touchy issue when the staff returned to work. I have no knowledge as to whether this actually influenced any decisions on reducing/waiving fines, but it did cross my mind when I read your comment.

    If $50 is a sincere hardship for you, and will prevent you and your daughter from obtaining books, I’d encourage you to write a letter of appeal if you have not done so already. At the very least, it will let the library know that the policy causes problems for some people.

    I would also, of course, encourage you to reconsider your withdrawal of support from the library; $50 does not go far if you are buying the books yourself. And I truly don’t think trying to make life more difficult for frontline staff is the answer. Even if they did enter the wrong number in your account the other day.

    Best,
    Greyson

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