Union local chair says Newmarket has the lowest paid library workers in York Region

Newmarket Today
Joseph Quigley
June 9, 2023 11:22 PM

Newmarket Public Library workers are threatening to take strike action amid bargaining over issues that include wages and benefits.

Candian Union of Public Employees Local 905, representing library workers across York Region, announced that 93 per cent of Newmarket’s library workers voted in favour of strike action. Their collective agreement expired in March and bargaining is scheduled throughout the summer.

Chair of the Newmarket Public Library unit of CUPE Local 905 Kathryn Richardson said Newmarket has the lowest paid library workers in the region.

“Most are also part-time and have no benefits,” Richardson said. “Our library workers are incredibly dedicated and deliver amazing programming, but it’s getting harder and harder to attract and retain great people when wages and working conditions are better pretty much everywhere else.”

The union says benefits and wages are the central bargaining points. With high inflation, the union said the cost of living is a concern, along with the reliance on part-time workers and “management adding new tasks to the workload.” The union said more than 70 per cent of the library’s workers are part-time.

Library CEO Tracy Munusami said the library appreciates its staff and all the work they do to serve Newmarket residents.

She said the two sides have met for bargaining five times since April 26, and the library presented an offer at its last meeting.

Library workers provide a vital service, CUPE 905 president Katherine Grzejszczak said.

“Library work is increasingly complex. The library provides vital services to all Newmarket residents. It’s one of the only safe and free spaces that is open to the public,” she said in a news release. “Library workers become the frontline staff for every challenge, and it takes someone special to be able to do all that as part of their job.”

Grezjzczak said the last offer the library provided was not close to enough. She added that About 20 per cent of the library workers are on minimum wage, Grezjszczak said, with some relying on the food bank.

“It doesn’t even come close to catch up with inflation,” she said. “There was next to no wage increase for the lowest wage workers … We are still hopeful that the library will come back with an improved offer.”

Bargaining remains ongoing. The library workers plan to petition outside the Newmarket Public Library in the days to come, including June 10.

“There’s a lot of support in the community,” Grezjzczak said. “They value library services, they value library programming, they value the entire library and the workers are the ones that make the library.”

“Newmarket Public Library conducted a confidential market review for CUPE Library positions and have provided CUPE with the results. Those results were considered in the monetary offer that ensures fairness and fiscal responsibility,” Munusami said.

The library was not informed by CUPE of the strike vote, Munusami said. With three bargaining dates still scheduled, she said the parties would have to meet with a conciliation officer appointed by the province prior to CUPE members moving to a legal strike position.

The Newmarket library has been transforming, with a recent rebrand and associated service improvements in the works. The library is below average in several benchmarks with comparable library systems, according to a 2022 report to council, including per capita financial support, materials expenditure per capita, staffing ratios per capita and hours open per week.