Strike in libraries: Mayor Marchand has washed his hands enough

Strike in libraries: Mayor Marchand has washed his hands enough
Strike in libraries: Mayor Marchand has washed his hands enough

The strike which affects the services offered by the Canadian Institute of Quebec (ICQ) has lasted since March 1, more than two and a half months. This has gone on long enough. It is time for the municipal administration to take its responsibilities and stop hiding behind the nominee who acts as its subcontractor.

For 11 years, following an accounting decision taken by the previous administration, the ICQ has managed all of the municipality’s libraries. A small proportion of its employees earn decent salaries.

Almost all of the clerks, mostly women, do not have a regular position and work less than 30 hours per week. These people have truncated and variable schedules, often working evenings and weekends.

As long as these positions were occupied by people studying for whom these conditions were ideal, the employer was able to meet their needs. With the pandemic and the scarcity of labor, the working conditions it now offers to recruits are a real laughing stock.

The starting salary for clerks is barely more than what the city offers to students who act as instructors during the summer. In its most recent proposal, the employer offers $20 an hour to newcomers without experience, but then freezes their salary for three years. And the salary indexation offered does not allow the required catch-up, after 11 years of dry regime.

Union malaise

Responsibility for a labor dispute does not rest solely with the employer. The previous employment contract was signed in April 2018. Covering the years 2016 and 2017, the agreement ended on December 31, 2022. Since then, the two parties at the negotiating table have held their talks in “business as usual” mode. .

They seem to have never believed that the employees could go on strike. However, it would have been enough to talk to casual employees and take note of the high staff turnover rate to realize that the work climate was not in good shape.

After being dumped by their union, library workers turned over the negotiation of their previous collective agreement to the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).

This union affiliated with the FTQ has no other branch in the public sector. His degree of disconnection is evident when we see the extent to which union officers underestimated the discontent of their members.

The tactics used by UFCW are likely working with small business owners and retailers. But faced with an employer who is not losing money, quite the contrary, by letting his staff go on strike, the union is visibly helpless.

Members receive information in trickles. The union seems most concerned about what its members may say to the media. Rather, it should work to better mobilize the population so that it puts pressure on the employer to find a solution to the conflict. Since the rejection of the last employer offer, there seems to have been no negotiation.

The strikers are discouraged by the inaction of their union representatives. For the few employees who have a regular position and an adequate salary, this strike hurts a lot. For the others, after more than 80 days of conflict, we can understand them getting tired of having to walk the sidewalk 20 hours a week in front of the three branches still open, rain or shine, while being harassed by the police if someone complains about the noise they make.

The screen

Starting my career in community newspapers, I covered municipal politics for three and a half years. Always hungry for information, I carefully followed the journey of mayors Pelletier, L’Allier, Boucher and Labeaume. Despite their faults and the mistakes these people may have made, the mayors shared a common quality during their respective mandates: that of speaking frankly and respectfully to their constituents.

However, in each of his interventions since the start of the labor dispute, the mayor has said one thing and done the opposite. At the end of February, the municipal council had to get involved for it to understand the ridiculous nature of holding a party on Saint-Joseph Street with strikers on the sidewalk. He had to resign himself to canceling the festivities aimed at inaugurating the new Gabrielle-Roy library, scheduled for March 1 to 3.

Since then, the mayor has continued to say that he was not the employer and was not involved in the negotiations. The conciliator responsible for bringing the parties together submitted an offer for a collective agreement last April. His municipal administration responded by rejecting this proposal and proposing some minor modifications to the initial offer. This was rejected at the general assembly, but by a narrow majority.

Since then, the tactic of the City and the employer has been obvious: wear out employees by leaving them to dry on the sidewalk during the summer. After two and a half months, many strikers were forced to ask community groups for charity. The conflict hurts them. Let’s not forget the problems caused by the interruption of services imposed on network users.

The current mayor comes from a community background. He should be ashamed of tolerating that his library employees are among the worst paid in Quebec.

Instead of washing his hands like Pontius Pilate and abdicating his responsibilities as chief magistrate, the mayor must intervene by giving his network manager the means to decently pay the workforce of his libraries.

If the strikers return to work without a real improvement in their working conditions, you can bet that the ICQ will struggle even more to recruit staff in the coming years.

If this is the case, taxpayers will eventually tire of paying for insufficient service. They deserve better than three branches open three days a week for five hours for a month.

Photo courtesy, Réjean Meloche

Alain Castonguay, Journalist, Resident of Limoilou since 1985

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