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CUPE representatives were front and centre in a panel discussion on the role of unions in the library sector during the annual conference and trade show of the Canadian Library Association in Winnipeg.

The speakers were Maureen O’Reilly and Dawn Lahey, both co-chairs of CUPE’s National Library Workers Committee, and Mitch Freedman, past president of the American Library Association.

Freedman, who lives in New-York and is known as a leader in the library sector in the United-States, said that unions are necessary and play a positive role in and outside the workplace.

The fact is the local public library is a vital service. It is often the only non-sectarian meeting place in the community; it plays the role of the commons. And it is the workers that make it work. You need librarians and library workers to have libraries,” said Freedman.

Unions are the most logical and the strongest defence of library professionalism and the value of library services delivered by trained staff.”

Maureen O’Reilly, president of CUPE local 4948, made a passionate speech promoting the essential role of library workers in the high-quality services rendered by public libraries.

Libraries are known for having a high-quality service culture. But cuts to libraries and staff are having a very negative impact on the services, on expertise and job satisfaction. We hear, here at the CLA conference, that we all want quality services, but we can’t have the quality public service with all these unjustified cuts that lead to cuts in staff,” said O’Reilly.

Unions play a positive role defending workers and creating better workplaces in general, said Dawn Lahey, Vice-President of CUPE Newfoundland and Labrador and president of CUPE 2329.

Over the years, our union made significant differences in the pay and working conditions of our members, especially part-time and casual workers. Many were making minimum wage. We raised the standard of living for our members, mostly women, who work in the sector.”

CUPE has been participating at the CLA’s annual conference and trade show for many years. However, this was the first time CUPE had speakers on such a panel. Many expressed the hope that the experience would be repeated next year.

CUPE is a Platinum Sponsor of the CLA Conference and Trade Show.