Books on a shelfCUPE 798 members working at BC’s Powell River Public Library passed a strike vote nearly unanimously at a meeting held Thursday. The two parties have been in negotiations for more than a year to replace the last collective agreement, which expired in December 2017. The vote was called after the two parties reached an impasse in early February.

“By tabling a final offer and refusing to consider either of our counter proposal options, the Library has told us that they are done talking,” said CUPE 798 President Graham Tonks. “We are taking this action because we simply cannot accept the employer’s ‘take it or leave it’ attitude towards the legitimate matters still outstanding.”

The key issue between the parties is pay equity with other municipally funded workers. Workers are demanding action to correct the historically low and unequal wages of library workers compared to their colleagues at the City of Powell River and the qathet Regional District (qRD). Workers also point to the gap between their wages and those of other library workers in small BC communities like Prince Rupert and Nelson to illustrate the need for a structural wage adjustment.

“Workers at the city- and qRD-funded library should make a comparable wage to those employed by the city and qRD directly,” said Tonks. “It is unfair that our library workers’ wages start more than 10 percent lower than their colleagues at the city doing equivalent work with the same complexity, responsibility, and education and skill requirements.”

Shortly after informing Library managers of the workers’ decision to approve a strike mandate, the union began the process of filing for mediation with the BC Labour Board.

“We are applying for mediation because we remain hopeful that the parties can reach a fair settlement, even if it takes some assistance to get there,” said Tonks. “We would only interrupt library users’ access to the services they count on if we felt that there was no other option.”

CUPE 798 represents more than 215 members working at the qathet Regional District (qRD), the City of Powell River and the Powell River Public Library.