Bradford West Gwillimbury Public Library

Union rep raises concerns about ‘secrecy’ at library board

Rob Paul
Bradford Today
Feb 15, 2023

For more than a year, CUPE Local 905 and the Bradford West Gwillimbury Public Library have been negotiating the library’s first collective agreement.

Negotiations started in September 2022, after certifying as a union in September 2021, and there have been 10 days of bargaining so far, with agreements reached on only three articles.

“This is a brand-new collective agreement, so there’s a lot of standard language that goes into that,” said Katherine Grzejszczak, CUPE Local 905 president. “For a bargaining union of 32 people, that’s a long time to bargain with very little progress.”

The union was organized by the workers about 18 months ago because they were unhappy with the workplace, according to Grzejszczak. Since April 2021, more than 50 per cent of the staff have left — 17 people out of a workforce of 32.

“That speaks to the dissatisfaction of the workers with the workplace. Unfortunately, I think the library CEO, Matthew Corbett, is the one who is stalling the process,” said Grzejszczak. “They’re unhappy with him as the CEO. There’s a lot of fear in that workplace and, between the CEO and the employer’s legal counsel, we just can’t get agreement on things that should be fairly standard issues in the first collective agreement.”

When reached for comment on the situation by BradfordToday, Corbett said the library is continuing to work with the union on the collective agreement, but he did not get into details.

“The library is working through the first collective agreement with CUPE,” he said. “Bargaining and negotiations are ongoing with the union, and we are hopeful to reach a positive outcome in the coming months. While being respectful of the bargaining process and without going into details of the process, we continue to work with the union on collective agreement issues with hopes of a resolution that is in the best interest of all parties and the community which the library serves.”

Grzejszczak says there’s no co-operation from the employer to reach an agreement at this time.

“This employer wants to continue operating like there’s no union in the workplace, so the process is being stalled,” she said. “We’re not asking for anything extravagant. It’s a first collective agreement. For there to be 10 days of bargaining with such little agreement reached for a bargaining union of 32 people, it’s very concerning that progress isn’t being made.”

There are further bargaining days set for CUPE 905 to work with the library on moving the collective agreement forward, but Grzejszczak has concerns about the library board.

“We’re looking to do a deputation at the board. We’re not sure how much the library board is aware that things are not going well at the bargaining table,” she said. “There’s been a lot of secrecy, I find, around the way things are being done at the library board.”

An example of the secrecy, she said, is a strategic service delivery review done last year by a consultant that wasn’t presented publicly.

“That’s very unusual. When municipalities do strategic service delivery reviews, it’s presented at council and there’s a lot of discussion,” she said. “That report was received in camera and the union filed a freedom-of-information request because we’re in bargaining and a potential restructuring of the service is of interest to us. We were given a document that was completely blacked out. We had to go to the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario to finally get a copy of it.”

She said this type of secrecy is unheard of, and she has concerns with the library board and CEO not allowing the public access to discussions and planning for how the library would be restructured.

“The library is a public institution of knowledge,” she said. “I don’t think the secrecy is in the public’s best interest. It’s concerning that these conversations are being had behind closed doors.”

With a new library board in place, the concerns remain the same for Grzejszczak.

“The first library board meeting was about a month ago and they remained in camera for two hours,” she said. “We showed up to the library board meeting last night (Feb. 13) and they were in camera for two hours.”

The fact the strategic service delivery review was being guarded so closely that the union had to go to the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, all while the bargaining of the collective agreement is not moving along at a reasonable pace, has raised red flags for Grzejszczak.

“This level of secrecy is concerning,” she says. “What’s being hidden behind closed doors? There are some really serious questions here about how the library is being run.”

Trying to move the collective agreement forward while dealing with this lack of information has been difficult, and that’s why Grzejszczak wants to bring more awareness to the situation.

“There’s a bargaining process. There are steps. However, we’re hopeful one of the ways to get the CEO to come to the table and fairly bargaining with the union is by raising the issue publicly so there’s some level of public oversight as to what’s happening here,” she said.

The union and the library will return to the bargaining table Thursday for the 11th time in 18 months.

“There’s not a normal number of meetings, per se,” said Grzejszczak. “The part that’s concerning here is there’s been extremely little progress made in those 10 days. For a bargaining unit the size of 32 people, that should absolutely not be the case because there’s not that many issues to deal with.

“Again, with a first collective agreement, a lot of the language is really standard because it just mirrors what’s in the Labour Relations Act. There’s just seemingly no interest in co-operation from the other side. At the end of the day, I don’t think this translates into a better service for the public with ongoing labour relations issues for the folks that are delivering the library service to the community.”

To move the process forward, the union is working on getting a conciliator assigned from the Ministry of Labour.