Vancouver library workers back at Libraries today: historic first strike is finally over

Vancouver library workers back at Libraries today: historic first strike is over.

No more enthusiastic pickets like this anymore….  CUPE 391 Vancouver library workers really raised the bar for creativity on the picket line. See Globe & Mail story: Library workers picket with pizzazz. This photo si from september 21, 2007. day 58. photo by rabidsquirrel

The historic first library strike is now over.  On Friday CUPE 391 voted 71.4% to accept the new changes in latest contract proposal with their employer the Vancouver Public Library.  The Library board ratified the contract on Saturday morning.  And just like that… all the picket signs were finally officially down. 

On Sunday, Branch and Division heads and seniors attended meetings to discuss re-opening the library for Wednesday.  Late Sunday afternoon I met our CUPE 391 President Alex Youngberg, at the Dream Vancouver conference and we talked with some of Vancouver's community activists, leaders and city councillors.

I went to work at the Oakridge Branch Library today.  This is where I usually have a regular Monday 1-9pm shift.  Tomorrow I will work at Champlain Heights Branch.

Working with my co-workers, many whom I had last seen on the picket line at Library Square, or at the voting meeting on Friday… felt kind of comfortably strange.  “I'm so used to seeing everybody all bundled up,” I said referring to the cold wet weather that had marked the last month of the strike. 

The branch was closed to the public as we unpacked boxes of books, checked them into the computer system, revised them in order and shelved them in their places.  The feeling was generally jovial, as we worked fast and efficiently, taking pride in jobs well done and happy to be finding our groove.  I did raise a concern about RSI injury, because our muscles and joints are not accustomed to the book handling actions, after 3 months of not working.  We switched jobs every now and then, chatted about our strike experiences… the good the bad, the surprising.  It was fun to be back with my co-workers again.

There's going to be some time for reflection about our time on the strike.  There have been friendships and bonds created that will last a long time.  We have seen people step up, that we didn't expect.  We have thanked our committees and leaders, and extended our warm support to them.  But it's not over yet… there are plans to document our historic strike action, and a cook book on how to hold a strike CUPE 391 style!  With puppet shows, chili recipes, knitting for solidarity, author readings, bicycle pickets, bbqs and all the creative and unique things that our members did to engage the public and the media with our message, and to keep our spirits up and build solidarity on the picket line.

CUPE 391 president Alexandra Youngberg with job action committee leader D'Arcy Stainton, a former union president. August 16th, Day 22 on strike.  Who knew there would be 87 days on the picket line? – photo Todd Wong

Today, Monday morning, Alex Youngberg, CUPE 381 President was interviewed on CBC Radio's Early Edition by Rick Cluff.

Rick: “Happy to be back?”

Alex: “Most of our members looked eager to take on their duties again.  It's a mixed emotion of course, we are going back united to carry on our fight for gender discrimination in other venues.

Rick:  “However, do you feel you made inroads.  Because at least you brought the issue to the fore, the city recognized it, mediator recognized it, and they're working on it.”

“Yes, we've definitely raised our profile on this issue this round of bargaining.  The results aren't what we intended, but as you say, the mediator clearly indicated that pay equity is a problem at the City of Vancouver, or we wouldn't have gotten 14 wage adjustments.  That's rather a backwards way of doing it,  We should have established that there was a problem, and the wage adjustments would have been the result.

Rick Cluff: For a union that hasn't been out before… What was it like for your members?

Alex: “Catatonic…  To begin with… because, we are very much engaged with public service, and that direct contact.  The public and the staff tend to support each other in building community.  We take questions, We give answers.  We learn from them what they need, and we learn how to give better responses.  It's a very symbiotic relationship.  We had to learn other ways to engage with the public being on strike.

“It takes a lot for this group, after 77 years, to go out on strike.  So the issue of unfairness of not being paid for equal pay for work of equal value had been an issue for 26 years and it had to be finally dealt with on a different level.”

Rick:  “And for picket line rookies, what was it like when the inside and outside city workers went back a week before you?”

Alex: “Well actually, we had several projects in the pipeline to engage the public.  They hadn't quit at all at that point….

“We actually wanted to give the public back their space.  The public deserved to be back in the libraries and there were other places to take this issue now that we've raised our profile.”

Rick: “Now back to pay equity which was perhaps the major stumbling block, what do you feel you've achieved there?”

Alex: “Well, beyond the recognition… we do have a committee to discuss classifications. The employer has been very careful to keep that term “pay equity” out of the contract when it describes this committee but we will be meeting until 2009 to discuss these issues.  We have also done a great deal of networking across North America on this issue and there's many female-dominated work forces whose issues are similar to ours and they are engaging with us.  So this issue of gender discrimination has become a social justice cause that has gained recognition with a lot of groups and we are working together now politically and we will be seeing different ways to resolve this”.

Well done Alex!.

Listen to the full Rick Cluff – Alexandra Youngberg interview on CBC Radio Early Edition

AUDIO: CUPE 391’s Alex Youngberg reflects on her union local's first strike (Runs 4:50)

For information about the library hours, date due, no fines etc.

All branches will reopen on Wednesday, October 24 according to their
normal operating hours.

Full services, including complete electronic services,
may not be immediately available.

We are currently preparing the libraries to serve you and
look forward to restoring services in the coming week.

No late fees will be charged for the time the library was
closed or during the first week or reopening.

Items that were on hold when the labour disruption started
will be held for pick up for an additional week.
There will be no charge for holds that expired after July 25.

Loan periods will be extended for all materials checked out during the first week of reopening.

Items normally on loan for 21 days will be extended to 28 days.

Items normally on loan for 7 days will be extended to 14 days.

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