Monthly Archives: August 2007

Vancouver authors, writers and poets come to Library Square to address striking Vancouver library workers

Vancouver authors, writers and poets come to Library Square to address striking Vancouver library workers

for Library Workers”
1 pm reading/speaking program
South Plaza of Library Square
Robson and Homer St.

I have only made this program up
this past week…

Terry Glavin was our first speaker, on Tuesday August 14th.  Terry addressed pay equity issues, his life experience with strikes and the importance of libraries… and how he had planned to do some research at the library – but couldn't because we were on strike.

Tom Sandborn speaks to CUPE 391, Randy, Tom, Alexis and Peter – photo Todd Wong

Tom Sandborn was our 2nd speaker a week later on Tuesday, August 21st.  It was very timely because Tom had just written a piece on CUPE 391's call for pay equity, in The Tyee.  Vancouver's Library Strike: Women's Pay on the Line

Tom spoke about the importance of pay equity and how it works.  He compared the Vancouver library to other comparative systems.  He also spoke about how the media works and how it is important for Vancouver library workers to keep their support strong and write letters to get their views across, and ensure that correct information and perspectives about their contract struggles are presented.

joked that if the library workers settle before next Wednesday, it will
ruin his column for the Vancouver Courier.  After speaking to CUPE 391
library workers, he took some pictures of us waving at cars on Georgia
Street, then he reappeared on his bicycle waving to us… and everybody
yelled “Thank you Tom!”

The World Poets wrote original poems and read them to the audience, (l-r) Jan, ??, Alejandro and Ariadne – photo Todd Wong

The World Poetry Society presented poems specifically written for the Vancouver library workers on Wednesday.  Ariadne Sawyer and Alejandro Mujica Olea have organized World Poetry Nights at the Vancouver Public Library for over 5 years usually on the 3rd or 4th Monday of each month.  Ariadne was one of the first people I called to come speak/read to Vancouver Library workers, as their group is one of many small community organizations that rely on VPL for a venue and adverstising of their events.

The World Poets received heart-felt and appreciative applause from their library worker audience.  Ariadne's poem mentioned many of the library workers whom she specifically works with in setting up a World Poetry event at the library.  Barbara who does the bookings, Adrienne who does the posters, Paul who presents ideas… It was a very touching tribute.  Alejandro closed it up with a passionate fiery speech that implored library workers to stand up for the issues they believe in and not to back down… “because you deserve it!” he cried out.

Ellen Woodsworth gives words of support to CUPE 391, while strike leader Peter DeGroot holds Ellen's bicycle – photo Todd Wong

Ellen Woodsworth, former COPE city councillor, gave words of support to the striking city library workers.  I got to know Ellen through her assistance with the Joy Kogawa House campaign and we became supportive friends.  Woodsworth encouraged library workers to stay visible, and keep up their campaign – because they are winning public sympathy and public opinon.  She urged the library workers to write to city councillors and to newspapers to ensure that their views were included and that correct information was being presented.

Chuck Davis speaks through the make-shift PA system that is Todd Wong's boom-box – photo Todd Wong

Chuck Davis spoke today.  He opened talking about the second most stolen book in VPL history, his self-penned reference book The Vancouver Book.  He told many funny anecdotes including phoning up the Vancouver Public Library to ask when the first traffic light was installed.  “Well… according to the Vancouver Book… it was…” came back the answer.

Chuck told some fascinating stories about how Vancouver history has been recorded, researched and recycled.  The library plays an important part of that as a cultural and historical storehouse of information and archives, he told the listening audience.  We also joked about how the first strike in CUPE 391's 77 year history will have to go onto Chuck's website:

Stan Persky, is coming on Friday August 24th.
The BC Book Prize winning author of  The Short Version: An ABC Book will speak on  Friday, August 24th.  Stan was one of my political activist role models and College instructors.  I
was taking his classes in Political Science at Capilano College when
the Solidarity movement was happening, and I was a member of the
Capilano Courier student newspaper collective.  He has also author a book about the Polish Solidarity movement titled “At
the Lenin Shipyard” and the “Solidarity Sourcebook”

Daniel Gowthrop will speak next week on Monday, August 27th.
Gawthrop is the author of Affirmation : The AIDS Odyssey of Dr. Peter, Highwire Act : Power, Pragmatism and the Harcourt Legacy, The Rice Queen Diaries
and also Vanishing Halo: Saving the Boreal Forest.  Daniel also works in the CUPE national office.  Hmmm… what a coincidence!

Globe & Mail: Library workers picket with pizzazz – Todd Wong interviewed with accordion!

Globe & Mail: Library workers picket with pizzazz
– Todd Wong interviewed with accordion!

Library workers picket with pizzazz – Globe & Mail story by Laura Drake

It seemed like an interesting angle to story about the Vancouver civic strike.  Why are Vancouver Library workers so cheerful with high morale on their first picket line in their CUPE 391 Union's first strike in 77 years?

“We are creative, literate, entrepreneurial, child-friendly and community oriented people,” I told G&M reporter Laura Drake.  She had heard about my accordion playing on the picket line and had found my blog reports and pictures on 

“Writer Tom Sandborn spoke to us yesterday, Terry Glavin last week, and today the World Poetry Society is coming to address our library workers.”

They wanted a picture of me playing accordion, and I immediately suggested that videographer/library worker James Gemmill should be in the picture too.  James videoed me playing some songs… just like he did when he has created some of his videos of library workers on the picket line – which can be seen on

Today we have author/historia Chuck Davis coming, and Stan Persky on Friday.  Chuck  Davis's “The Vancouver Book” was the second most stolen book in Vancouver Public Library history.  Persky was the original editor of Solidarity Times during the BC Solidarity movement.  He also wrote books on the Polish Solidarity movement.  Daniel Gawthrop, author of the Rice King Diaries, will be reading/speaking on Monday.

James Gemmill, Globe & Mail reporter Laura Drake, G&M photographer Laura Leyshon and Todd Wong – pose after Leyshon took pictures of James videoing Todd. – photo T.Wong collection.

Ross Bliss and Todd Wong – gypsy jazz guitar + classical concert accordion = fun

Check out the G&M story below:


Library workers picket with pizzazz

One worker keeps up spirits by playing the accordion;
others knit, practise tai chi and answer community reference queries on

VANCOUVER — The song Happy Together
was not meant to be played on the accordion, nor is it traditionally
considered a union protest song, but as striking Vancouver library
worker Todd Wong pumped out the tune yesterday for fellow picketers
yesterday in Library Square, it was a little bit of both.

“People thank me because they enjoy the music and it creates a
wonderful ambience,” said the library assistant, who had his picture
snapped by fellow strikers and tourists alike.

A 30-year veteran of both the accordion and the Vancouver Public
Library, Mr. Wong is just one example of the artistic temperament that
has decidedly flavoured the library workers' strike.

Today marks the start of the fifth week of the first strike ever in
Vancouver's library union history. The smallest of the Vancouver unions
currently on strike, CUPE 391's 800 members have taken a unique
approach to walking the picket lines – one that involves very little
walking and more knitting, reading, singing, barbecuing, listening to
lectures and practising tai chi.

Mr. Wong admits he's been slack with his performance schedule –
mostly because he's been busy organizing for poets, choirs and authors
to come entertain the striking workers.

“People are more than willing to come and perform for our picketers.
They have an appreciative audience that's cultural and literate,” Mr.
Wong said.

And just like the weekly Friday barbecues and daily tai chi in the
mornings led by librarian Tim Firth, the presentations are open to all.

“We do this because we want to continually engage with the community,” said Peter DeGroot, CUPE 391's job action co-ordinator.

“We feel compassionate and proud about the work that we do and we
can't just stop reaching out and being involved with the community.”

Many of the striking library workers have been answering questions
on the line that they would usually answer at reference desks, using
wireless laptops and cellphones to help confused passersby.

“It's very difficult to take the library out of the library worker,” laughed CUPE 391 president Alex Youngberg.

Ms. Youngberg pointed out that librarians and those who work with
them are generally of an artistic temperament, something that has
become evident during the strike. For example, she said, striking
workers have knit more than 80 hats, which are being sold for charity
or will be donated to Downtown Eastside residents.

“People who work for the library are a very creative, eclectic
bunch,” said Mount Pleasant children's librarian D'Arcy Stainton. “We
have all these creative people coming up with all of these things.
Every day on the picket line is different.”

Mr. Stainton and James Gemmill, another library worker, have created
a series of black-and-white videos posted on the union's website. While
Mr. Gemmill's videos serve as artistic depictions of life on the picket
line, Mr. Stainton's videos are humorous send-ups of the city's
position on key union issues, set to Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries and narrated in an old-time newscaster voice.

While the videos serve as a creative outlet and a morale booster for
other library workers, they also allow Mr. Stainton to show his support
for the issues that are keeping the library workers on strike, such as
pay equity.

“I spent five years as a single dad working in a female dominated
profession and it's hard when you look around and see other city
employees with master's degrees making $20,000 more than you,” he said.

Most of Mr. Stainton's cohorts are equally as devoted to achieving
pay-equity language in their collective agreement, something Mr. Wong
said they've been seeking for 30 years. At a recent union rally, the
library workers were by far the rowdiest bunch in the crowd, giving Ms.
Youngberg louder support than any other speaker.

“That spirit is still there,” Ms. Youngberg said yesterday. “This is
their first strike, and I wasn't sure how they would feel about it four
weeks in, but if anything, they seem to be more passionate.”

Pay equity issues in the media + writer Tom Sandborn coming to speak to Library Workers

Pay equity issues in the media + writer Tom Sandborn coming to speak to Library Workers

Ugh… it's back to the picket lines today… after my blissful little dragon boat racing and cultural visit to Victoria.  More about my visits to Emily Carr House, Craigdarroch Castle and Victoria Chinatown tomorrow…

Today, we have a visit from writer Tom Sandborn to come speak to library workers at Library Square.  I have met Tom on various occasions, and after last week's visit by author Terry Glavin, Tom was recommended by former Vancouver city councillor Fred Bass.

Yesterday, Tom wrote an article for The Tyee about the pay equity issues raised by CUPE 391, Vancouver library workers.  And today, the Vancouver Sun published a story about pay equity issues. Fancy that!  Finally… library issues are breaking past the concerns about garbage.

Vancouver's Library Strike: Women's Pay on the Line

Picketing librarians at VPL.

Men get nearly $6 more hourly for similar work, says union.

By Tom Sandborn

Published: August 20, 2007

Vancouver city librarians say a key reason they're still on the
picket line is a sexist divide in pay rates. Hourly pay for library
jobs filled mostly by women start at nearly $6 less than jobs of equal
value that happen to be filled by a majority of men, a study shows.

The 17.5 per cent raise over five years the city is now offering is only part of what the union is fighting for, they said.

Spokespeople for CUPE 391, the local that represents city
librarians, told The Tyee on Thursday night that they were encouraged
that their employer had agreed to meet for negotiations on Friday, Aug.
17, but were cautious about how much progress they could make. They
said that although the city's press release announcing the new
negotiations indicated a willingness “to negotiate wage adjustments as
a means of addressing wage issues raised by library staff,” to date the
city negotiators have refused to discuss any of the local's four key
bargaining demands: pay equity, improvements for part-time workers, job
security and general benefit improvements.

Three weeks into the strike, they say the city's latest offer falls
short of others already settled in the Lower Mainland, and includes a
proposal to add a new, low-wage job classification that would hire
workers at reduced wages to do work currently done by library

“Pay equity is a human rights issue,” said Laura Safarian, a
librarian at VPL's downtown main branch, and a member of her local's
bargaining committee.

“Canada has signed on to international agreements that recognize the
human rights implications of gender bias in wages. This statement from
the city, awkward as it is, represents the first time we've seen any
recognition at all of the issue from the employer. We have made
significant compromises in our negotiations already, including a
reduction in the special wage adjustment we're asking for, for all
professional librarians,” Safarian added.

read more Vancouver's Library Strike: Women's Pay on the Line

Here is the Vancouver Sun article:

Strike could last months, city official says

City, union making no progress toward settlement, spokesman says

Jeff Lee,
Vancouver Sun

Published: Monday, August 20, 2007

Vancouver city officials say a simmering summer strike by three civic unions could last for months.
a new proposal from the union representing striking library workers “is
going in the wrong direction,” city spokesman Jerry Dobrovolny said the
public should brace for the strike, which began more than a month ago,
to continue much longer.
“Typical city strikes tend to be about six
to eight weeks,” he said. “While I can't speculate on how long this one
will now last, I can say that this one clearly isn't typical. I would
say it is going to be a long one.”
Dobrovolny's comments followed a  meeting Monday with The Vancouver Sun's editorial board.
the meeting, he accused the unions representing 6,000 striking inside,
outside and library workers of engaging in a “larger political agenda,”
a comment a union official later dismissed as “rubbish.”
said the city offer essentially matches five-year contracts recently
signed with 10 other municipalities, apart from some specific issues
peculiar to each union.
Dobrovolny said no new talks are scheduled,
and the city has no idea how it is going to resolve the dispute, which
is actually three separate strikes, the longest of which is now in its
33rd day.
He said striking workers now appear to be trying to put
new demands on the table, something that “takes the two sides in
different directions.”
For example, he said, library workers made
significant new demands in a proposal opened by city negotiators on the
weekend, and a statement on the outside workers' website warns that
“the longer this strike goes on, our demands and costs to the employer
will go up.”
But the presidents of all three striking locals of the
Canadian Union of Public Employees said Monday afternoon they are not
making new demands and in fact are generally happy with the standard
set in the other five-year municipal agreements.
 Where they disagree is on issues that specifically affect their unions, they said.

Read more: Strike could last months, city official says

Portland's Wasabi paddlers get Gung Haggis Fat Choy team dinner in Victoria for dragon boat races

Portland's Wasabi paddlers get Gung Haggis Fat Choy team dinner in Victoria for dragon boat races

Almost every team has their own banner with a dragon on it – photo Todd Wong

Elena is one of my new friends from Wasabi Team Huge – photo Todd Wong

Victoria Dragon Boat Festival
August 18, 19

On Saturday night… I organized a Chinese dinner for 40 paddlers
from Wasabi Team Huge and Wasabi Mixed.  I brought my accordion and
taught them to sing Scottish songs and recite Robbie Burns “Address to
the Haggis” – just like last year in Victoria for the Dieselfish team, the Cultus Lake Dragonflyers and the Pirates/Gung Haggis team… Everybody loved the
dinner.  On Sunday, people kept thanking me for organizing the event,
and saying they had fun.

But no haggis… I promised to bring the haggis to Portland in January,
and organize a Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner for them for Robbie Burns
birthday for 2008!

I have known the Wasabi Paddling Club since 2001, when I became friends with paddler Suzi Cloutier on Wasabi Team Huge.  In 2003, I steered for Team Huge at the False Creek Women's regatta, and medaled with them at the Kent Cornucopia Races.  At the inaugural Portland Sellwood Park dragon boat races, Wasabi hosted Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team, and loaned us paddlers to win medals in the recreation   division.

Wasabi Team Huge: waiting for our boat to come in.  Joyce, Jenna, Suzi and Sandra – photo Todd Wong

I had an inspiring weekend steering

and being a team member with the top women's team at the festival. 
Wasabi Team Huge…  a team that took the silver medal at the 2006 US IDBF Nationals and won gold at the World Club Crew IDBF races.

It was great to race again with Team Huge.  Sometimes being a male
addition to a women's team can be a challenge, or met with suspicion (thank goodness, I did my Women's Studies courses at college!). 
Thankfully  my friend Suzi and coach Kim spoke well of me, and led
the team with welcoming hugs.  Trust is a big factor in building a
team.  Team Huge not only welcomed me for their Victoria race, but also
paddlers from their Wasabi Mixed Recreation team – Warriors, and Wasabi
senior women's team – Power Surge, as well as a woman paddler from
Vancouver too!  Coach Kim created a powerfully strong positive atmosphere that was inclusive – something I also stress for the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team.

Team Huge finished 4th in Gold B Division – out of medal contention… but they were the top Women's team at the Victoria Dragon Boat Festival.  Next closest women's team was in bronze – 15 to 20 teams below us.

We finished #39 of 90 teams, at the bottom of the top 4 divisions… instead of being at
the top of the bottom 5 divisions.  They raced for pride, to improve
with each race, for each other, and for themselves…

Coach Kim Ketcham is great… I have known her since she was a paddler on Team
Huge in 2001.  She started coaching the team in 2003.  She teaches the
women to paddle with heart, with technique, and with control.

The team is very disciplined and responsive.  When they did their power
pieces, you could feel the boat pull forward steadily.  In our Gold B Race Final, the other mixed teams surged past us on the start.  But Team Huge caught up to 4th place Concord Flying Dragons, and passed them.  When the
team moved into their final power series, they pulled away for a 1.45 second lead
with a time of 2:27.74… a big improvement over posting a 2:33 on
Saturday morning.  In the Gold B race the winning times were:
West Shore Warriors 2:20.30 – Dog Paddlers 2:23.53 – Starbucks
Waverunners 2:24.95

Wasabi Team Huge: Anna waxes Caroline's butt before a race – photo Todd Wong

Other races:

The very top teams posted times of Kai Ikaika (with a team stacked with
False Creek paddlers) 2:03.74 – Gorging Dragons 2:04.51 – Dragonauts
2:09.39 – Sudden Impact 2:11.61

Our friends on Swordfish got silver in Diamond division with a time of
2:15.29 and Gung Haggis paddler Teresa Plesner paddled with Tacoma's Destiny Dragons to finish 2:23.24 to get 3rd place ribbon in Diamond consolation.

Manfred Preuss' Chilliwack Crusaders posted 2:24.23 to grab Bronze medals in the Silver Division

In the Crystal Division (the slowest category)
Cultus Lake Dragon Flyers got silver in Crystal 2:32.74 Gung Haggis paddler Richard Montagna paddled with False Creek Grand Dragons missed bronze
by 0.80 seconds to our friends Chix with Stix (from Tacoma).

Hip, Hapa and Happening… August 17th +

Hip, Hapa and Happening… August 17th +

If I was in Vancouver this weekend, I would be going to see the Orchid Ensemble in the Enchanted Evening music performance series… at the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Classical Gardens.

Earlier this year, I witnessed another incredible performance by Lan Tung and the Orchid Ensemble as they played accompaniment and solo to Kasandra's Mozaico Flamenco.

But…I am going to Victoria for the Victoria Dragon Boat Festival and will be steering… I mean “tilling” for “my Oregon team” – Wasabi Team Huge.  They are one of the best women's teams on the West Coast, and I have known them since 2001 when they were the US national representatives and medalists at the World Championships.  Since then I have steered for them twice in races. 

My main contact on the team is a French-Canadian-Jewish-American woman named Suzanne Monique Cloutier.  She's my friend.

Generations: The Chan Legacy on CBC Newsworld Aug 19: Discover Toddish McWong's ancestral Chinese-Canadian roots

Generations: The Chan Legacy on CBC Newsworld Aug 19: Discover Toddish McWong's ancestral Chinese-Canadian roots

Hi everybody

You can catch me in action on CBC Newsworld television
Sunday, August 19th, 4pm pst (7pm est)
(or on the picket line at the Vancouver Public Library – see

Generations: The Chan Legacy

It's the story of how my great-great-grandfather Rev. Chan Yu Tan and
his wife came to Canada in 1896, and how they, their children and
grandchildren overcame racism and challenges, to integrate and help
create the fabric of our Canadian mosaic.

It's an incredible Canadian story, told through the voice of a family that has lived through 7 generations of Canadian history.
it's about the past, the present and the future.

– WW2 Veteran Victor Wong – president of the Chinese  Canadian eterans Association in Victoria.
– Helen Wong – who lived in Nanaimo with her grandparents Rev. & Mrs Chan Yu Tan
– Gary Lee, the “Chinese Sinatra” and pioneering actor
– Janice Wong, author of CHOW: From China to Canada
– Tracey Hinder, teenage inaugural BC regional CanSpell Champion

and of course:  Todd Wong aka “Toddish McWong”
– creator of Gung Haggis Fat Choy, Robbie Burns Chinese New Year dinner,

See me with:
–  my accordion in the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Gardens
– CBC Vancouver television performance special
– 2006 Terry Fox Run in Richmond BC
– Joy Kogawa and the 1st open house event at Kogawa House

The show has had great responses from everybody across the country, friends, family and community members… and even strangers!

Set you vcr
Sunday, August 19th
4pm pst, 7pm est
CBC Newsworld
(channel 26 in Vancouver, channel 20 in Victoria)

Peace & Blessings, Todd