Delegates from the Library Sector identified current and emerging issues including deskilling, precarious work, member engagement, working alone and the changing role of libraries.
Strengthening and improving collective agreement language emerged as an important strategy for pushing back against these challenges. Contract language addressing volunteers, job security, creating and securing full-time jobs, caps on part-time employees, hours of work, health and safety and preventing de-professionalization and deskilling were only a few examples of contract provisions locals should strive to achieve or make stronger.
Delegates discussed campaigns and other means to fight back to preserve public services. They heard how the government in Newfoundland and Labrador proposed to cut budgets by 30 per cent which would result in 54 out of 90 library closures. Educating the public through campaigns, rallies and days of action informs the public and engages CUPE local union members.
CUPE BC’s Library Health and Safety report was presented to the delegates. CUPE surveyed all library locals and followed up with interviews to identify what unsafe work looks like in libraries. Staffing levels, working alone, marginalized people and mental health injuries were some of the issues discussed. Delegates from across Canada experience similar issues in their workplaces and are interested in repeating the survey in other regions.
CUPE library workers appreciated the opportunity to share their experiences and collective agreements between different types of libraries and across regions, discussing what works and doesn’t work to deal with the issues they are facing.
They discussed the power of provincial library committees in CUPE and how strategizing together not only helps one local but all locals.
The role of libraries in the community was also a focus of discussion. Libraries, which are community hubs, face the challenges of meeting the needs of young people after school and somehow compensating for absent parents who are not taking on that responsibility. A social worker from a large urban library shared insights into connecting with library patrons whose needs go beyond what might be considered traditional library services. The issue of health and safety continues to be a priority for library workers and the public at large. Libraries need to be safe for everyone and a welcoming place for all.
Ideas were shared on how to celebrate Canadian Public Library Month. Ontario described their success with a campaign to celebrate Ontario Public Library Week in which they hand out postcards and candy to the public at lunch time.
Delegates discussed local union structure. Members from stand alone locals, composite locals, provincial and municipal structures, as well as school board and post secondary locals, shared information on how their structure works.
Delegates painted a clear picture that library workers unionized with CUPE have the ability to improve working conditions, job security, occupational health and safety and to build public support.