Vancouver Island Regional Library librarians hosted a storytime and craft event in Cumberland at one of the five picket lines Saturday.
BC General Employees’ Union members with the VIRL have been on strike since March 8 with rotating picket lines, escalating to all union members being on strike as of March 30.
On Saturday, picket lines were set up at the Cumberland, Cowichan Lake, Nanaimo Harbourfront, Nanaimo North, and Nanaimo Wellington branches.
Laura Kaminker, chairperson of the BCGEU bargaining committee says the storytime event at Cumberland was to remind people of the joy that librarians bring to the community.
“The librarians, who are BCGEU members, and normally would be working for Vancouver Island Regional Library, gave a gift to the community of a program of stories and crafts around social justice issues, labor issues,” Kaminker said. “When library workers go on strike, this is quite common to have storytimes or a craft to bring some of our joy of serving the community and our joy of the programs that we deliver, and bringing that to the picket line.”
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The union last met with the VIRL on March 23, but the library issued a news release today saying it will re-engage with the mediator.
“I know I speak for my fellow Trustees when I say we care deeply about all VIRL employees,” Gaby Wickstrom, chair of the VIRL Board of Trustees said in a news release.
“As Trustees in charge of administering VIRL’s budget, part of our job is to ensure fair wage increases for staff while balancing the financial burden to our communities. The long shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbates these challenges, but the Board is confident that a resumption of cooperative bargaining will lead us to a mutually acceptable outcome.”
Kaminker says the members have been asking for a wage increase to reflect the increased cost of living.
“We earn less than all other librarians in the province, and our executives earn some of the highest salaries in the province,” Kaminker said. “Our ask is still below cost of living, we don’t expect to keep up with cost of living but we are looking for a better increase…we do want to be able to afford a decent life like everyone else. We don’t want to keep slipping behind with every contract moving farther back, because our wages don’t keep up.”
Kaminker says although she didn’t expect the strike to last as long as it has, morale remains high.
“We want our work to be valued our education and our experience and our skills to be valued,” Kaminker said. “So we’re still very determined and united.”
VIRL notes that library branches without picket lines remain open for service, with CUPE staff, including Circulation Supervisors, Library Assistants, and Information Technicians working to keep the branches open.