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Toronto's library staff book out of union Add to ...

After a nasty battle, Toronto's 2,400 librarians have voted overwhelmingly to leave the city's powerful outdoor workers' union.

With about 50 per cent voter turnout, more than three times as many librarians voted to split away from Local 416 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees - which also represents garbage collectors and parks workers - as voted to stay. The final tally was 1,017 in favour of leaving to 287 who were opposed, CUPE Ontario's Brian Atkinson said, calling it "pretty overwhelming."

The city's library workers have been represented by Local 416 since the union was created after amalgamation in 1997.

Library unit chair Rob Rolfe said "the time had come" for his members to form their own unit.

"We're very pleased," he said.

The move still has to be approved by the CUPE national council, which Mr. Rolfe hopes won't be a problem given the "strong mandate" demonstrated by the vote.

The outcome is seen as a blow to Mark Ferguson, the new leader of Local 416. As economic conditions continue to tighten, Mr. Ferguson has said he would push for a wage hike along the lines of the approximately three per cent per-year increase given in recent city contracts, including firefighters, police and transit. A similar increase for all of Local 416 (including librarians) would have cost taxpayers about $12-million per year. If the new library unit is approved, both they and the remaining local will negotiate separately, leaving it unclear how the move will affect the city's balance book.

Mr. Ferguson campaigned vigorously to keep the librarians (who made up 30 per cent of his dues-paying members) inside his tent, and was criticized by breakaway library workers for striking a deal with management to use the library's e-mail system to urge members to vote No.

Some library union leaders said they need to create their own separate union and accuse the new leadership of CUPE 416 of being deaf to their concerns and threatening to remove the library unit's current elected bargaining committee.

Mr. Ferguson has said the separatist librarians are followers of his predecessor, long-time CUPE 416 leader Brian Cochrane, who retired under a cloud last year and accuses "dissidents" in the local and CUPE's national president, Paul Moist, of forcing him out.

Mr. Cochrane's partner, Maureen O'Reilly, is a long-time library unionist leading the effort to split from Mr. Ferguson's Local 416.

In a statement on a website for the breakaway library workers, Mr. Rolfe described the fight as a "David and Goliath battle" as his faction did not have access to official union funds.

Mr. Rolfe says in the statement, issued before the votes were counted, that the fight was about allowing library workers to "speak and bargain for ourselves, and fight for our own rights in our own workplaces and union."

CUPE 416, which had represented more than 8,000 other city workers, is now in contract talks with the city after its contract expired in December. The union last went on strike in summer 2002.

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