ESSEX, ON – In an effort to pave the way for striking library workers and management to return to the bargaining table, Lori Wightman, unit chair for CUPE 2974, issued an open letter to county council urging them to show leadership and do what it takes to settle this unnecessary strike that’s depriving residents of vital library services. The text of her letter appears below:
Open Letter to Essex County Council from CUPE 2974
I am writing on behalf of the 58 dedicated library workers who serve our community in 14 branches across Essex County.
As this unnecessary strike enters its third week, not only are library workers on the streets walking the picket lines, but also library patrons find themselves outside the libraries deprived of the many library services, including a host of popular summer programs that library workers have developed in anticipation of the busy summer months.
Many of our library patrons have reached out to us and showed tremendous support for us on the picket lines. Many of the same library patrons and our members have reached out to you, the elected leaders of Essex County, urging council to show leadership and pave the way for both parties to get back to the bargaining table to find a resolve so workers can return to work and libraries can be opened again for our community.
Our public supporters and CUPE 2974 members received some of council’s responses, including one from the chair of the library board. Your responses, unfortunately, do not reflect the facts of the current situation. In case you have been misinformed, I would like to clear up the misinformation that some of you have been sending out to your constituents so all elected council members are aware of the facts.
Fact # 1. Sick time is a major stumbling block toward a fair deal. As we all know by now, sick time is not an issue at the libraries. Our members love their work and love coming to work every day. Management knows this and has acknowledged it. In fact, they have indicated that there will be no savings from making the proposed changes to the sick time policy. So why, we ask, are you forcing this change when it benefits no one in the library – neither the workers nor the board (as it is a non-issue and there are no savings from this change)? For the board to communicate that the proposed sick time is an improvement over the current plan is misrepresentation of reality – any proposed change that includes clawing back more than half of the existing sick leave provision is not an improvement, it is a setback.
Fact # 2. CUPE 2974 is not on strike for other bargaining units or other Essex County employees. CUPE 2974 is an independent local – our union is driven by local autonomy, where our members make their own decisions. Our members’ decision to strike was because of council’s dictated change to sick time provisions when the sick time issue is not even a problem in our workplace. Our members know what is fair and reasonable, and when they are being targeted by their own employer.
Fact # 3. There never was a final offer from the employer, the Essex Library Board. At no time during the bargaining process did the employer representative indicate to our bargaining team, or the mediator, that management was issuing a final offer. Following public statements that their offer was final, it was just very recently that the library chair backtracked on his public statements and indicated that ‘the last offer wasn’t a final offer by any means,’ as quoted in the Windsor Star.
Fact # 4. We remain committed to bargaining a fair contract. We are not demanding or dictating anything, as some of your responses indicate; in fact, we have no demands – we simply want to keep what we have and maintain a fair contract so we can continue to provide important library services. During bargaining, we tried to work with the board to come up with creative proposals to avert this strike. In fact, CUPE 2974 moved on our positions many times, but our gestures to reach a fair contract were rebuffed by management asking for conciliation and later calling for a ‘no-board’ report that triggered the strike. CUPE 2974 is willing and able to return to the bargaining table to bargain, but it can only be productive if the other party is open to bargaining.
In closing, I urge you to pave the way for management to return to the bargaining table to negotiate a fair contract. Our community has already lost two precious weeks of summer programs where families and children could have learned, played, and enjoyed all the activities that were planned for them. Please don’t deprive our community of our libraries over a phantom issue that does not exist in our workplace. A fair contract is all it takes for this strike to end and for our libraries to be open again.
Unit Chair for CUPE 2974
cc: Robin Greenall, CEO of Essex County Library
Suanne Hawkins, CUPE National Representative
For more information, please contact:
Lori Wightman, Spokesperson for CUPE 2974, 519-890-1932
Suanne Hawkins, CUPE National Representative, 226-347-0242
James Chai, CUPE Communications, 416-458-3983