In the end, it all appeared to have happened very quickly.
The B.C. General Employees Union stated on its website Tuesday morning it has reached what it called a “tentative agreement” in mediation with the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL). “Job action will be paused to allow for a ratification vote to proceed.”
The announcement follows VIRL’s Saturday (April 9) statement that it had re-engaged the assigned mediator in the dispute with librarians represented by BCGEU. VIRL board of trustees chair Gaby Wickstrom said at the time the board is “confident that a resumption of cooperative bargaining will lead us to a mutually acceptable outcome.”
That outcome now appears within grasp as the labour dispute seems to be heading toward a conclusion.
“We’re pleased that VIRL’s management has chosen to re-engage negotiations, and to have received a fair wage proposal that is worthy of bringing back to the membership,” said Laura Kaminker, VIRL librarian and bargaining committee chair, in a release. “Until the vote is counted, librarians will be back at work and not on the picket line.”
Neither details about the agreement nor the timing of the proposed ratification were available from either side as of Tuesday midday.
BCGEU issued strike notice on Feb. 25 and picketing began March 8 after librarians voted 95 per cent in favour of job action to back their proposals. Mediation between the two parties in January had failed to produce an agreement. BCGEU members working as librarians for VIRL have been without a contract since December 2020 and the two sides have been bargaining since September 2021.
According to the union, 48 librarians work in VIRL’s 39 locations between Greater Victoria and Port Hardy including the Gulf Islands, Haida Gwaii and Bella Coola.
The initial phase of the dispute saw rotating pickets at various VIRL locations. At the Sidney/North Saanich branch pickets appeared on March 15, March 22 through March 25 and April 8.
Job actions escalated on March 30 when all librarians went on strike. This step followed two days of unsuccessful mediation.
Broadly speaking, librarians sought a deal that aligns their compensation with other libraries in the province and reflects the rising cost of living across Vancouver Island.
VIRL acknowledged rising costs, but also argued that 80 per cent of the communities VIRL serves are rural coastal areas grappling with post-pandemic economic recovery. The organization has called for an agreement sustainable for all the communities.
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