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Board chair hopeful strike vote ‘won’t result in a disruption to library services’

POWELL RIVER, B.C. – The chair of the Powell River Library Board said the city will do “everything in its power to ensure that the doors of Powell River’s library won’t close,” in the midst of a labour dispute.

“Our staff are dedicated to delivering the services that our community relies on, and I am hopeful that this will not result in a disruption to library services,” Rob Wiebe said, in an email to the newsroom.

Last Thursday, CUPE 798 members working at the Powell River Public Library passed a strike vote with a near unanimous vote.

The two parties have been in negotiations for more than a year to replace the last collective agreement, which expired in December 2017.

According to a release by the union, the vote was called after the two parties reached an impasse in early February.

“By tabling a final offer and refusing to consider either of our counter proposal options, the Library has told us that they are done talking,” said CUPE 798 President Graham Tonks. “We are taking this action because we simply cannot accept the employer’s ‘take it or leave it’ attitude towards the legitimate matters still outstanding.”

According to Wiebe, CUPE has advised the Library Board that it will be applying to the Labour Relations Board for mediation.

“The Library Board is hopeful that resolutions to the outstanding issues will be found quickly and fairly through mediation,” Wiebe said.

“Our aim is to come to an agreement that is fair and reasonable.”

In a release, the union noted that the key issue between the parties is pay equity with other municipally funded workers.

“Workers are demanding action to correct the historically low and unequal wages of library workers compared to their colleagues at the City of Powell River and the qathet Regional District (qRD),” the release states.

“Workers also point to the gap between their wages and those of other library workers in small communities like Prince Rupert and Nelson to illustrate the need for a structural wage adjustment.”

Tonks said employees at the city- and qRD-funded library “should make a comparable wage to those employed by the city and qRD directly.”

CUPE 798 represents more than 215 members working at the qathet Regional District (qRD), the City of Powell River and the Powell River Public Library.

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