Andrew Loewen | CUPE Communications
2017 was a momentous year for library workers and their communities in Saskatchewan.
The March 2017 provincial budget imposed sweeping cuts to the public sector, including a $4.8 million cut to library funding, and threatened to eliminate rural library service and gut urban library service.
In response, CUPE library workers worked with grassroots community groups and library patrons to mount one of the largest grassroots mobilizations in the province’s history.
More than 7,000 people in 70 communities participated in “Drop Everything and Read” actions outside MLA constituency offices and other venues across the province. The unprecedented public support for libraries forced an about-face from Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party government, who admitted they were surprised by the public outcry, and reversed the cuts and fully restored library funding.
“I loved the protests across the province as it gave a visual representation of the importance of libraries in people’s communities,” said CUPE 2669 president Pam Ryder, representing 290 Saskatoon Public Library workers.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the end of the story. In May, twenty-three CUPE 2669 members were laid off, with only half of them able to bump into alternate positions, often at lower pay and only part-time. A 27-year member, Yvonne Siermacheski, chair of the Public Relations committee for the local, lost her full-time position as a film specialist to be offered a lower-paying part-time position that reduced her monthly income by more than half.
Siermacheski says that the restructuring to a “community-led service model” is a false bill of goods. Vital departments and community outreach services are being eliminated without consultation or input. As part of the process, librarians were laid off and forced to reapply for new positions, with some enduring five or six job interviews despite years of service, and others forced to resign.
Entire departments in Saskatoon are slated for elimination in 2018, including Children’s Services, Outreach Services, Local History, Adult and Information Services, Fine Arts, and more. These programs have proved especially important to new Canadians, low-income residents, the disabled, local authors, genealogists, researchers, and children and families.
“We are missing many programs that we used to offer that were cornerstones for the community. These programs are what draws in patrons like new mothers and their babies and make life long library users,” says Ryder.
“Both Regina and Saskatoon Public Libraries are top-heavy organizations,” says CUPE 1594 Vice-President Alejandra Cabera in Regina. “Regina Public Library now has a 1:8 ratio of managers to staff. We’ve also seen an increase of precarious work. Regina Public Library is at a 50/50 ratio in full-time and part-time staff and has nearly two dozen term positions.”
With the support of CUPE National, Saskatchewan library workers continue to campaign – holding rallies, producing online videos, and lobbying – for a robust public library system that recognizes the value of both library workers and the communities they serve.