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The Globe and Mail

Library union asks for 'no board,' says talks at an impasse

Toronto Public Library staff Shinta Martina places books on the shelves of the St. James Town branch on Sherbourne Street.

Fernando Morales/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

Toronto's public libraries are one step closer to a possible labour disruption, with the union declaring talks at an "impasse" and asking the province's Ministry of Labour for a no board report.

The move, made Friday morning, means more than 2,300 library staff will be in a legal strike position in about four weeks. The province is expected to grant the union's request in the next five days and when that happens, the clock will start ticking on a strike or lockout deadline 17 days from then.

Unlike outside workers, who settled with the city earlier this month, library workers have already given their union a clear strike mandate, with 91 per cent voting in favour of job action.

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Union leader Maureen O'Reilly said her local is committed to continuing negotiations, but felt the request to the ministry was needed in order to make progress on key issues. "Our intention is to negotiate a collective agreement at the end of this process," she said.

Library board chair Paul Ainslie said he is surprised by the union's tactics, which include a public campaign that asserts the mayor is trying to "offload" parts of the library system. "It is a 'take no prisoners' approach to labour negotiations," he said.

The board has never had any discussions about privatization, he said.

About half of library workers are part time and three-quarters are female, a situation that sets them apart from other city locals, Ms. O'Reilly said. The notion that her local is "just going to accept things that are agreed to at other workplaces" needs to be addressed, she said. "It is a unique workplace. We are very different."

About 100 library jobs were eliminated as part of this year's budget cuts, but Mr. Ainslie said those reductions were achieved through buyouts and retirements, rather than layoffs.

A recommendation last summer to close branches created a huge public backlash, as did a plan to cut hours at many branches to meet the city's target of a 10-per-cent cut to all 2012 budgets. No branches were closed and council voted in January to increase funding for libraries to maintain hours.

Negotiations are set to continue next month and a spokeswoman for the library stressed that it will be business as usual while those talks take place.

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"We believe we can find successful resolutions to all the issues," Anne Marie Aikins said. "We remain very committed to providing high-quality library services. We don't see that changing in the future."

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