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Striking Library workers picket outside the Toronto Reference Library on Monday, March 19, 2012. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum / The Globe and Mail)
Striking Library workers picket outside the Toronto Reference Library on Monday, March 19, 2012. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum / The Globe and Mail)

'We want a settlement,' Mayor Ford says in face of library strike Add to ...

On the first day of the first labour disruption of his mayoralty, Rob Ford rushed past reporters with barely a comment while hundreds of Toronto’s striking library workers rallied outside city hall.

“We want a settlement, we don’t want anyone on strike,” Mr. Ford said before slipping back into his office after his weekly weigh-in Monday morning.

Toronto’s 2,300 library employees walked off the job after 5 p.m. Sunday, shuttering 98 branches to bibliophiles across the city.

It’s the first strike in the amalgamated library’s history, and both sides say a failure to agree on job security and benefits for part-timers drove workers to the picket lines.

“The [Toronto Public Library]board is still seeking to gut job security so that more than half of our membership is vulnerable to job loss, making it easier for the city to close branches in the next budget,” Maureen O’Reilly, the president of CUPE Local 4948, told a mid-day rally at Nathan Phillips Square.

The library strike could be just the beginning of the Ford administration’s labour pains.

More than 23,000 inside employees – including those who work at daycares, recreation centres and municipal offices – are scheduled to take a strike vote Tuesday.

Members of CUPE Local 79 will be in a legal strike or lockout position at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

For both the library and inside workers, job security – or what the Ford administration calls ‘job for life’ – remains a major issue.

In the library’s case, the collective agreement that expired Dec. 31, 2011 protected all permanent full and part-time workers from losing their posts to privatization or new technology.

Ms. O’Reilly of the library union said management wants to weaken the contract so fewer than half her members retain that right – something she insisted would open the door to closing libraries.

Councillor Paul Ainslie, the chair of the library board, has said the city has no plans to shut branches.

“When I look out at other work places and what they are getting for part-time job security, I think the library was given a very reasonable offer that I was shocked they decided not to accept,” Mr. Ainslie said. “I think they walked away from a good deal.”

Earlier this year, the Ford administration managed to wring a major concession on job security from CUPE Local 416, which represents more than 6,000 outside workers.

Their new deal limits job protection to workers with 15 years or more of seniority.

Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said it’s no secret the city is using the 416 agreement as a template for other unions. Right now all permanent, full-time employees of Local 79 benefit from the job security clause. Part-timers do not, a CUPE spokeswoman said.

“I don’t see how they can expect us to give them more than we gave 416,” Mr. Holyday said of Local 79. “They want it so that there is no contracting out, which would give job security not just to permanent employees but to all, even temporary and part-time people. No one in the real world does that. Just how far can they take such a matter?”

That depends, in part, on the strength of the strike mandate Local 79’s membership receives from its members Tuesday.

While they prepare to vote, some of their Local 4948 counterparts complained about Mr. Ford as they prepared to march outside city hall.

“I’m very disappointed in him,” said James Burling, 28, a part-time public service assistant at the Brookbanks branch near Victoria Park Avenue and York Mills Road. “I feel like there’s a level of ignorance running through city hall right now that’s kind of frightening.”

Mr. Burling has worked at the library since he was a teenager. He’s a part-timer by choice, and loves his job. He’s heartened that the union is fighting for the rights of part-time workers.

“I feel like the part-timers don’t really have a lot of say in what happens,” he said.

Unlike Mr. Burling, Dolores Sirola wants desperately to land a full-time job at the North York central branch, where she’s shelved books for a year.

“It’s difficult financially,” the 32-year-old said of making ends meet on 10 to 14 hours a week. “I really love working at the library, but because they’re trying to cut positions I won’t be able to move up or get more hours.”

Although talks have stopped, there is some hope they could resume. As of noon on Monday, neither side had shut down its negotiating room at the Westin Prince Hotel on York Mills Road, where marathon talks took place over the weekend.

With files from Elizabeth Church

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