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VICTORIA—Over 150 people, mostly members of the public, attended the Oak Bay town hall meeting about pay equity Thursday, March 6. Public support of library workers and criticism of politicians, who did not attend, was loud and clear.

Many spoke about finding ways to hold politicians accountable and suggestions ranged from taxpayers filing a class action suit against the Library Board for withholding services, to calling board members everyday, to attending municipal council meetings and board meetings. Some folks created their own blog and others formed a citizens’ group in support of public libraries.

Andrea Brimmell, Vice President of CUPE 410 says, “The public support was tremendous. It’s heartening to see that people are taking action to bring the politicians around to open the library, and end the lockout.”

Many at the town hall meeting spoke about how important the library was to them. One senior talked about the lockout as a “disgrace”. She reminded everyone about the “white cane group who misses the library, perhaps even more than you.” A mother spoke about how her children are deprived by not being able to go to the library.

The meeting was opened by Neil McAllister, Branch Head at Oak Bay Library, who thanked people for coming and let folks know which politicians were invited – Chris Causton, Mayor of Oak Bay; Chris Graham, Chair of the Library Board; and Ted Daly, Chair of the Greater Victoria Labour Relations – none of whom attended. John Fryor, Adjunct Professor at UVic, introduced the panelists and moderated the lively discussion.

Panelist Lynne Marks opened the panel discussion with a brief history of working women and how the skills they brought to their jobs were considered as being natural to women, therefore not valued. In the mid-20th Century, new professional jobs such as librarians, social workers and nurses were seen as appropriate for women. Often these jobs were only open to single, white, Christian women. Marks compared women’s wages to men’s wages. In 1970 women earned 60 per cent of what men earned, now that amount is just over 70 per cent.

The next panelist, Carole Cameron, was CUPE’s job evaluation rep and worked on the collective agreement evaluations in 1992. She explained how jobs were evaluated using skill (formal education needed, decision-making responsibilities), effort (physical effort, concentration, and dexterity), and working conditions (accountability and responsibility for the work of others, communications skills).

Cameron explained that equal pay for work of equal value is comparing apples and oranges, whereas an example of equal pay for equal work would be two cleaners doing the same work in the same establishment.

She summed up by saying, “Since Victoria Public Library participated in the review, there had to be some contemplation that inequities would be identified and corrected. The only word I can think of is ‘discrimination.’ I don’t get how the Library Board can have a collective loss of memory.”

Andrea Brimmell, Vice President of CUPE 410, was the final panelist and explained the history of pay equity in their collective agreement. In 1997 the City of Victoria staff achieved pay equity. “There are still significant wage gaps. In 2006 negotiations began and the Library Board said that pay equity was done. Library workers were made a promise to be treated as other city workers. We are municipal employees and we want workers in our libraries to be valued and respected for the work they do.”

Members of CUPE 410 are planning town hall meetings in additional communities. The next meeting will be held in Central Saanich on Wednesday, March 19 at 7:00 pm at the Central Saanich Senior Citizens Association at 1229 Clarke Road in Brentwood Bay. Everyone is welcome to attend. For more information call 250-294-1370.