strike

Town to seek library funding from Essex County

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The town of Amherstburg wants its share of the savings from the Essex County library strike.

The town is requesting that Essex County council return its share of the costs, and passed a motion at a recent special meeting asking the county to release those funds. Essex County council had previously agreed to hang on to the $790,000 and use them for library purposes, with municipalities able to tap into those funds similar to that of a grant program.

Councillor Diane Pouget said the town has spent “quit a bit of money” on the current Amherstburg library and she believes the residents deserve to get money back from the county to help defray those costs.

Pouget noted such work as parking lot improvements and upgrades to the front steps have taken place, adding there are more expenses probable due to the age of the building.

Amherstburg council will be seeking money back from Essex County from the $790,000 saved during the library strike.

Amherstburg council will be seeking money back from Essex County from the $790,000 saved during the library strike.

“We’ve done a number of improvements and we’re going to have more,” said Pouget. “It’s an old building.”

Pouget made the motion to seek the town’s proportional share of the savings, believing it was respectful to Essex County council yet also showing that the town wants its share to help with its own library branch. She also pointed out Mayor Aldo DiCarlo and Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale still have to work with their fellow county council members.

“I don’t want this council to get into an argument with county council,” she said. “Both of you have to go back and work with county council.”

County council decided last month not to return money directly to residents, citing there was no real mechanism to do so. Warden Tom Bain pointed out at the time that it amounted to only $4 per resident anyway.

 

Essex County to hold onto library strike savings, pledge to use it for library purposes

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The $790,000 that was saved during the 230-day Essex County library strike will not be coming back to municipalities.

Instead, Essex County council will set that money aside in a reserve that municipalities and the county itself can tap into for issues specifically related to libraries.

County CAO Brian Gregg noted the $790,000 in savings was due to the money not being spent due to the strike and said it was not administration’s intent to “bury it and have it go away.” The money was temporarily placed in a reserve, he said, with the intent to bring it back to county council for discussion on what to do with it.

“The county doesn’t have a way to rebate this to the ratepayers,” said Gregg.

Gregg suggested there were “a number of ways” the money could be used, suggesting it could be used to support the library system.

Amherstburg Mayor Aldo DiCarlo questioned how much the library system didn’t receive in government funding due to the strike. DiCarlo, who had asked for that figure at prior meetings, was told that it was “coming soon.” Gregg said a review of the figures shows that total is roughly $140,000.

Library workers picket outside of Amherstburg town hall last year. Approximately one year after this photo was taken, Essex County council decided to put $790,000 saved during the library strike into a reserve with the plan of using the money for library-related purposes.

Library workers picket outside of Amherstburg town hall last year. Approximately one year after this photo was taken, Essex County council decided to put $790,000 saved during the library strike into a reserve with the plan of using the money for library-related purposes.

DiCarlo was one of five county council members who opposed the motion.

Amherstburg council was one of the municipalities that asked for the money to be refunded.

Tecumseh Deputy Mayor Joe Bachetti liked the idea of using the funds for library services with Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos making the motion to set the money aside and allowing municipalities to tap into it should their library buildings need capital improvements.

Santos compared it to when Windsor-Essex Economic Development Commission (WEEDC) funding was returned, with the condition that money be used for economic development.

Leamington Deputy Mayor Hilda MacDonald stated the $790,000 was generated because the ratepayers did not get the library services and believed “it absolutely needs to go back to the people” who paid the money to begin with. Leamington Mayor John Paterson believed others on county council were saying local municipalities could not be trusted and believed the county did not need more reserve funds, as it already has $120 million in reserves.

Santos said it wasn’t a matter of trust and said the money will be set aside for when municipalities are ready to put a shovel in the ground for projects.

Amherstburg Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale said he has been hearing from a lot of people wondering what is going on with the money and hopes they can regain trust from those who lost it during the strike.

DiPasquale said after the meeting that the use of the money has been “pretty transparent” thus far. He agreed with the motion.

“It is fairness,” he said. “I hope the public understands that. I thought it was fair.”

Warden Tom Bain said the money was collected through the county levy and believed the big factor is that it will be earmarked specifically for library needs. He indicated the funds could also be used to lower increases brought to county council by the library board at budget time.

Returning the money to ratepayers wouldn’t be worth it, Bain believed, as it would amount to about $4 per resident.

Where should the excess library funds go?

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Amherstburg town council has voted to send a letter to the County of Essex asking they get a portion of the unused money that accumulated during the Essex County library strike.

The county deposited a $790,000 surplus into reserves but Amherstburg is asking that money be instead returned to municipalities.

Councillor Diane Pouget said residents didn’t get the services that funding was intended for so she wanted it returned. She said Amherstburg could use it to maintain the current Carnegie library at the corner of Richmond St. and Sandwich St. S.

“We are in desperate need of funding for our library,” said Pouget.

Councillor Leo Meloche had suggested the $790,000 be put towards the fund the county has for its share of the proposed new mega-hospital.

“Maybe it’s the opportune time to drop three-quarters of a million dollars into that fund,” Meloche questioned.

The Amherstburg library re-opens to the public at 10 a.m. Feb. 16 with Amherstburg council wanting the surplus the county accrued during the strike returned to municipalities.

The Amherstburg library re-opens to the public at 10 a.m. Feb. 16 with Amherstburg council wanting the surplus the county accrued during the strike returned to municipalities.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said the county is trying to put away as much money as they can for the proposed new mega-hospital. He added the motion, which passed, calling for the municipalities to get the money back was “a relevant position to take” so that the county knows what Amherstburg’s position is.

DiCarlo believed he is now cleared to speak on library matters due to the strike being over. He had been declaring conflict on the matter due to his wife Laura’s employment at the library.

DiCarlo stated that the town’s position was “pretty clear” that the money should come back to the municipalities, noting he was contacted by a lot of residents who believed a refund was in order.

“I heard from a lot of residents that we gave that money in good faith for library services,” the mayor said. “It wasn’t used the way it was intended.”

The mayor did add that a municipality can not have too much reserve funds and also understood the position of saving for a new mega-hospital, which is proposed for County Road 42 and Concession 9. The county has agreed, by a population split with Windsor, to fund 46 per cent – or about $92 million – of the hospital costs.

The Essex County library strike ended last week with the union ratifying last Thursday and the Essex County Library Board last Friday. The libraries re-open tomorrow with the Amherstburg branch being open from 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

Striking librarians receive donations of food, toiletries

by Jonathan Martin

The local librarians’ strike has been ongoing for more than a month now and for CUPE 2974 members, being out of work is starting to take its toll.

Dozens of picketers and their supporters gathered at the Essex library branch Thursday in a show of solidarity – and to add to their food bank.

Among them was a stony-faced Lori Wightman, unit chair for CUPE 2974.

“To be honest, finances are getting a little tight,” she said. “Some of us are the major breadwinner for our families. Every dollar counts and when you’re on strike you don’t make as much. Some of us are feeling that pinch, so this (food bank) is a major help.”

Secretary/treasurer of CUPE Ontario Candice Rennick hugs a teary-eyed Elaine Buschman at a CUPE 2974 rally in Essex last Thursday. During her quarter-century of employment, Buschman said she has banked between two to three years of sick days.

Secretary/treasurer of CUPE Ontario Candice Rennick hugs a teary-eyed Elaine Buschman at a CUPE 2974 rally in Essex last Thursday. During her quarter-century of employment, Buschman said she has banked between two to three years of sick days.

Secretary/treasurer of CUPE Ontario Candice Rennick handed out grocery cards and bags filled with toiletries to the picketers, many of whom accepted the donations with hugs and tears.

CUPE members are striking for a number of reasons, but a major sticking point is the library board’s proposed changes to its sick-day policy.

According to union officials, library workers can bank their unused sick days. Some have years saved up.

If the board’s plan goes through, workers would instead be given a payout for up to 60 hours at the end of each year.

“I think spirits get a little low when you’ve been walking the line for (more than a month) and we’re just trying to let them know that they may feel alone here in Essex,” said Rennick. “But they’ve got the backing of the largest, strongest union in the country and we’re not going to let them starve out here on the lines.”

Wightman’s face brightened as Rennick handed out the bags – and positively glowed when she approached the ice cream truck CUPE had hired to provide refreshments for the day.

Still, there was an edge to her voice as she spoke.

“It is very disheartening and very frustrating to be on this line for this long and to know that our employer and our elected officials do not want to listen,” Wightman said. “I don’t know whether they’re willfully not listening or they just don’t think it’s their issue, but it is their issue. Public services are being denied to the people who elected them and they need to make a stand.”

Library board, union still at odds after latest round of talks

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The Essex County Library Board and CUPE 2974 are still without a new contract even after three hours of talks last Friday morning.

The strike has entered its fourth week after talks broke down Friday. Both sides had been meeting with a mediator but little to no progress was made in those talks. CUPE 2974 charges that the Essex County Library board returned to the bargaining table not budging on the core strike issue and announced they had not been given authority to bargain, ending mediation talks.

“Now we find out at the bargaining table they don’t have the authority to bargain,” said Lori Wightman, unit chair with CUPE 2974. “Not only are we striking over a phantom issue, we are now bargaining with a phantom board with no authority, no accountability and certainly no urgency to end this unnecessary strike. If the employer has no authority to bargain then who does and who is driving this agenda over a sick time issue that is not a problem at the libraries?”

Wightman said they were negotiating with the same people they already had been negotiating with and “for some reason, they told the mediator they don’t have the authority” to continue bargaining. She said the union is curious as to why and who does have the authority to negotiate.

“In the meantime, our communities are being denied service,” she added.

There were no new talks scheduled. She said the offer they were given was roughly the same, but stated there was a reduction in the financial compensation package “not that it’s about the money.”

Sick time policies have been at the crux of the disagreement and remains so with Wightman stating talks lasted only from about 9 a.m. Friday to 12 noon.

“We were prepared to stay there as long as it took,” she said. “We were ready to bargain all day and all weekend to end this strike but there was no point sitting there bargaining with ourselves when the other side is not budging on the core issue and has no authority to bargain. If the Library Chair and the Chief Librarian have no authority to bargain, then why were they there and the bigger question is, who is calling the shots, and why weren’t they at the bargaining table to end this strike?”

CUPE 2974 have had picketers at each of the 14 library branches within the Essex County system, including Amherstburg (pictured). The strike has entered its fourth week.

CUPE 2974 have had picketers at each of the 14 library branches within the Essex County system, including Amherstburg (pictured). The strike has entered its fourth week.

CUPE 2974 said they plan to attend this Wednesday night’s meeting of Essex County council and they plan to have a large contingent in attendance.

Richard Meloche, chair of the Essex County Library Board, said the two sides never met face-to-face last Friday and took issue with the union’s assertion that the library board had no authority to bargain.

“That doesn’t even make sense,” said Meloche. “The Library Board has total access to do what they feel is right.”

According to Meloche, the board made the first gesture and increased their wage offer to try and create an incentive for the union to accept. He pointed out they “won’t budge” on the sick and accident time issue and believes it is a fair and generous package that is being offered.

“It is going to be consistent with what is offered by the county,” said Meloche.

While not divulging details, the sick and accident time package being offered is better than what many taxpayers receive at their jobs, he added.

“It’s a good plan,” said Meloche. “I don’t know what else to tell you. The deal we are offering is very fair.”

The union said during mediated talks last Friday they wanted the sick and accident time offer changed, said Meloche, “and they knew we were not going to. We’re saying we’re revising it. They are not helping us revise it.”

Meloche said it has been four decades since the sick time policies have been changed. He acknowledged it is the union’s right to attend county council Wednesday night and their right to be in the public view as they strike.

“That’s fine,” he said.

Meloche said he is getting feedback from the public to keep an eye on taxpayers’ money.

“I’m getting people saying negotiate fairly but don’t give the cow away,” he said.

The Library Board wants to see the county’s 14 libraries back open and the workers return to their jobs but they have to ensure the taxpayers are looked after as well, Meloche added.

“We want them open like everyone else but at what cost?”