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In protest of library staff cuts, VPL workers will leaflet writers fest

Unionized workers at the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) are feeling the bite of $500,000 worth of planned staff hour cuts, which union members plan to protest by leafleting the May 9 Vancouver International Writers Festival at the VPL, said Alexandra Youngberg, president of CUPE Local 391.

The action comes as part of a planned protest by the 800 plus CUPE 391 members over the re-negotiation of their collective agreement. Tensions between library workers and management have peaked as budget cuts and increased e-book circulation have put employee job security in doubt.

"There's going to be a lot less people on the desk," said Youngberg, adding that the cuts to hours and positions will mean less books and fewer services for students, seniors and recent immigrants.

The most recent flash-point between workers and managers came when the Vancouver Public Library Board selected a prominent B.C. labour lawyer to handle negotiations on their behalf. That move, said Youngberg, has left union members upset.

In light of staffing cuts, "how on earth can the library find the money to hire one of B.C.'s most senior management side lawyers to bargain on their behalf instead of doing what most cities do -- have library and city staff negotiate?" Youngberg said in a press release.

The lawyer, Kim Thorne of Roper Greyell, has worked before on acrimonious labour disputes, including the 2006 Ekati Diamond Mine strike in the North West Territories. He is also vice president of the International Vancouver Writers Festival. That prompted library workers to plan leafleting the event.

Youngberg said his selection will cause the negotiations "to drag on for a lot longer" and cost the library money at a time when it's already shedding services and positions.

But library management says Thorne will have no impact on the VPL's operating budget. His cost will be picked up by the City of Vancouver, said Chief Librarian Sandra Singh in a memo provided by a library spokesperson.

Singh said Thorne's expertise will be critical because the VPL and CUPE 391 are to negotiate a pay and benefit package costing $30 million.

Nonetheless, Youngberg continues to insist that selecting Thorne was unwarranted.

"We're not asking for much; we certainly realize it's tough times," she said. "I'm hoping for the best," she added, but said she had no idea how negotiations are going to go.

Adam Pez is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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