Library Workers Continue Strike Over Two Years Without Contract

CULEU Say They Fight to Keep Diversity in the Workplace

Library workers have gone more than two years without a contract. Photo Alexandre Denis

From 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesday, students might have had a hard time accessing library services. That’s because the library workers walked out for their second strike action.

The members of the Concordia University Library Employees’ Union and others supporting them could be found in the Norman Bethune Square, serving food and coffee, blasting music, and making sure the university knows they won’t stop pushing for a contract.

The CULEU held its first strike action on Jan. 16, following another failed negotiation with the university. The library workers have been working over 860 days, or over two years, without a collective agreement, which some say is “very frustrating.”

Library workers gathered at Norman Bethune Square to protest. Photo Alexandre Denis

Their collective agreement expired in 2017.

“The university has not moved toward settling that as quickly as we would like,” said library employee Faye Corbin. “I mean, two years is a long time.”

The university has had a demand on the table for 16 months. Library workers say it hasn’t changed whatsoever and the university has not been willing to negotiate on it.

“Unfortunately, nothing has happened [negotiation]-wise since our last day with the conciliator on Jan. 13,” said CULEU president, Kent Cluff. “We’ve pointedly told the University that the next step is up to them.”

The major issue the CULEU has with the university’s demand is a change to the requirements for employment in the library. CULEU Vice President Kwabena Otchere worries restrictions around these requirements would compromise diversity in the workplace.

Currently, library experience, a Quebec Diploma of College Studies, or a university degree are all acceptable qualifications for employment in the library’s highest-paid jobs. The university’s proposal is to change the requirements so only a DEC in library science—which is only offered by one English CEGEP—would be the only accepted qualification.

“We’re willing to move toward what they want but they aren’t moving toward what we want. We want to get it settled, it’s time, it’s been too long already. We want a contract and we want it now.” —Faye Corbin

“It’s frustrating for [employees] because they’ve dedicated a lot of time to Concordia, they’re loyal to the university, they’re certainly loyal to the library, yet in terms of advancement, they’re struggling,” said Corbin.

The CULEU rejected this demand in November 2018, said Cluff, while negotiations “went nowhere” during all of 2019, which he called “a waste of valuable time and university resources.”

On the Jan. 13 meeting, the university presented a final proposal, which was exactly the same as the previous ones, said Otchere. The university said the issue has to do with qualifications, but Cluff said it shouldn’t be an issue.

“The library technician diploma is already a recognized qualification in our collective agreement,” he said. “The university can already hire candidates with these qualifications. Nothing is stopping the university from hiring skilled and qualified library support staff as it has for 50 years.”

Organizers gave out coffee and snacks to participants. Photo Alexandre Denis

After the last meeting all reconciliation efforts were suspended. Now, the CULEU is striking to get the university to drop this part of their demands and get a deal signed.

“It’s really a small demand that’s on the table that they can easily drop,” said Otchere. “The current library support staff represents the community and we want to keep it that way. This demand will lessen that.”

Corbin said the workers only want to be able to meet with the university and finally get the issue resolved. She is pleading the university stop being so hard on this one particular aspect of settling the contract.

“We’re willing to move toward what they want but they aren’t moving toward what we want,” she said. “We want to get it settled, it’s time, it’s been too long already. We want a contract and we want it now.”

Concordia declined The Link’s request for comment, saying they will “[continue] to work together to find a solution.”