Talks continue past deadline to avert Toronto Public Library shutdown

March 16, 2012

Negotiations continue between the Toronto Public Library and its union to avoid a strike by the city's 2,300 library workers.

Both sides carried on talks throughout the night and into this afternoon, after they agreed to extend the original deadline from midnight to noon, and now to 5 p.m.

"Parties are still talking, there's a long way to go," said Cim Nunn, a spokesman for the Canadian Union of Public Employees, by phone just after the noon deadline had passed.

"As long as there's a willingness to discuss, then we are prepared to continue our commitment to look for a negotiated settlement which is in everyone's best interest," he said.

Half of CUPE Local 4948's membership is comprised of part-time workers. The main concern of the union is limited job security for this portion of staff.

Union members have already voted 91 per cent in favour of a strike.

As library talks continue, there's agitation building among other city workers. CUPE Local 79, which represents inside workers, has scheduled a strike vote for Tuesday.

The union is seeking a strike mandate to protect its members from a range of potential changes to employment terms: cuts to benefit plans, an overhaul of the scheduling system for part-time workers and weakened job security.

On Saturday, the head of Toronto's library workers' union was not "not optimistic" a deal could be reached to avert a labour disruption.

Maureen O'Reilly, the president of CUPE Local 4948, made the comments at 4 p.m., after her negotiating team received the latest offer from the Toronto Public Library Board.

"I'm not happy at all," she told reporters, adding management is still trying to weaken job-security provisions and hasn't addressed the needs of the part-time employees who make up more than 50 per cent of the library's staff.

On Friday, the chair of the Toronto Public Library Board didn't share Ms. O'Reilly's dismal view of the talks, which continued at the Westin Prince Hotel on York Mills Road.

"I think we're very close," Councillor Paul Ainslie said. "The major issue seems to be job security for part-time workers." More than 50 per cent of the library's staff is part-time.

If there is a labour disruption at the library this weekend, it would be the first since amalgamation. Library workers didn't participate in the 39-day civic workers strike in 2009.

If a work stoppage appears imminent, the library's management would release a contingency plan. Fines won't be charged for late returns once the libraries reopen, a library spokeswoman confirmed Friday.

With a report from Kelly Grant

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