| Jul 28, 2005

Feature article, July 28, 2005

Feature article July 28, 2005

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Library strike could come next week

by Jeff Green

Last-ditch mediation is taking place this week in an attempt to avoid a strike or lockout for 93 unionized staff members at the Kingston Frontenac Public Library. A strike would affect service at all 17 branches of the library, including nine branches in Frontenac County.

The union local represents library staff, as well as technical and maintenance personnel. Some part-time library personnel, who are known as Pages, are not part of the bargaining unit.

Nancy Mohan, a librarian at the Isabel Turner branch in Kingston, has been the representative to the negotiations for library staff, along with a representative from the Canadian Union of Public Employees. This is Mohans third involvement in negotiation since the amalgamated library came into existence in 1998, and it has been very different from the other two negotiations.


The other negotiations featured a more cooperative environment. This time management has brought in a consultant, John Platz, as their chief negotiator, and they seem determined to claw back on some important working condition issues.

Particularly of concern to Mohan is the matter of worker accommodation.

There are times when workers, for health or other reasons, need specific accommodations in the work place in order to continue working. The practice that has developed in these cases has been for the union and management to be involved in the process. The union had intended to strengthen this process through this negotiation, but management is seeking to minimize union involvement.

An individual who is seeking an accommodation is in a vulnerable position, Mohan says, and we consider it is in their interest that their union be involved. Management doesnt seem to see it that way.

A major issue in the current impass is the matter of overtime.

What management is telling us is that they want more flexibility in determining worker hours.

Under the previous agreement, maintenance personnel have been working a 40-hour week, and everyone else 35 hours. If they go beyond that time, Mohan says, management is obliged to pay overtime.

The two sides are also at odds over health benefits.

One issue that has not been raised thus far is wages. That is not unusual, according to Nancy Mohan. Wages dont usually come up for discussion in any collective agreement until the final hour, she said.

Wage settlements are not generally very high in public sector agreements. The previous agreement had a 2% (about the rate of inflation) increase in each of the three years of the agreement.

Heading into mediation, Mohan still seemed puzzled by the negotiating style of management this time around.

There havent really been any negotiations, she said. Mr. Platz keeps saying that management is not happy with this or that policy, but we are not meeting to discuss policy; we are trying to negotiate a contract.

John Platz is President of Platz and Associates of Mississauga, a Human Resources Consulting company.

In describing the companys approach to collective bargaining, the company website promotes itself to corporations in this way: You may find that your collective agreement is not viable in the present business climate and is limiting your ability to meet required business objectives.

If mediation talks fail this week, unionized workers at the Kingston Frontenac Public Library will be without a contract as of August 2.

I would certainly recommend to the membership that they should not work without a contract, said Nancy Mohan.

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