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Vancouver Island Regional Library strike to ramp up after talks fail to produce deal

Sidney/North Saanich branch closed again; Sooke, four other branches shut Thursday
Librarian Sharon Walker greets passing motorists Thursday while on picket duty outside the Sidney-North Saanich branch of Vancouver Island Regional Library, which is closed for a third straight day. Negotiations held Wednesday failed to produce an agreement between BCGEU representing librarians and VIRL. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

The Sidney/North Saanich branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) remains closed for a third straight day Thursday after mediated negotiations between the B.C. General Employees Union and VIRL failed to produce an agreement.

The ongoing labour conflict also closed branches in Sooke, Nanaimo North, Campbell River, Courtenay and Cowichan (Duncan) on Thursday.

“Job action – including picket lines – could continue unless the union receives a fair offer from the employer,” read a BCGEU statement on its website, announcing that branches will be subject to “physical and virtual” pickets. BCGEU later added in statement to Black Press Media that no date has been set for further talks. “Therefore, job action escalated today.”

Both sides are bringing their arguments into the public realm in the absence of an agreement.

BCGEU’s statement publicly questions the fairness of the offer. “Unfortunately, after a second evening of mediated negotiations with the employer, a fair and respectful agreement was not found for VIRL librarians,” it reads. “Much back and forth and effort was made from both sides, but the gap on wages is still outstanding. We welcome a fair offer from the employer.”

VIRL, meanwhile, stresses the financial sustainability of communities, while blaming the union for rejecting the offer.

“Following two nights of VIRL-requested mediation, during which VIRL put forward an offer it considers fair and respectful to our librarians, and sustainable for the communities it serves, regrettably the offer was rejected by the BCGEU bargaining committee.”

VIRL stated that a “fair and resonable offer” remains on the table.

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BCGEU stated that the Sidney/North Saanich branch remains behind pickets for a third straight day because it is an important branch frequented by library users who are overwhelming supportive of ensuring librarians have the means to sustainably provide service to the community. “We are immensely grateful for Sidney library users and community members for their steadfast support and solidarity,” the statement reads.

BCGEU announced Feb. 22 that 95 per cent of Local 702 members, representing 42 full-time employees (12 per cent of VIRL’s permanent workforce), had voted in favour of job action. The union issued 72-hour strike notice Feb. 24.

The collective agreement between the VIRL and BC General Employees’ Union Local 702 expired Dec. 31, 2020 and the two sides have been bargaining since September 2021.

BCGEU said on its website that librarians are seeking a deal that aligns their compensation with other libraries in the province and reflects the rising cost of living across Vancouver Island.

VIRL said earlier that 80 (per cent) of the communities VIRL serves are rural coastal communities, grappling with post-pandemic economic recovery in calling for an agreement sustainable for all the communities.

The current labour dispute has also put grand opening celebrations for the new Sooke VIRL branch, previously slated for March 26, on hold.

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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