Halifax public library workers move to conciliation after contract talks stall

For the first time in its history, the union representing public library workers across Halifax has filed for conciliation in an effort to reach a new collective agreement.

Local 14 of the Nova Scotia Union of Public and Private Employees, which represents librarians, library assistants, and administrative, technical and maintenance staff, started negotiating with Halifax Public Libraries last fall, about half a year after their last contract expired.

Union local vice-president Shelby Whynot said after 55 days of bargaining, there was "not a lot to give on either side."

She pointed to inflation as the main driver of the stalemate, as workers seek higher wages to match the soaring cost of living.

"It's really challenging for our members to be helping the public with some of these insecurities like housing and food, while also going through those challenges themselves," Whynot said.

Hourly wages for library workers start shy of $17 per hour, or about $30,000 annually for someone working full time. Wages max out around $47 an hour, or $85,000 annually for a full-time worker.

Whynot said the "vast majority" of workers earn less than $45,000 a year.

Whynot said other sticking points include job appointment criteria, sick leave provisions, parental benefits and top-up pay, and medical and dental benefits.

She said the province has assigned a conciliator and the union is now waiting for dates to be set for talks to continue.

Possible job action

If an agreement cannot be reached through conciliation, library workers could choose to strike.

Local 14 president Christina Covert said the effect that job action would have on library users is a "key focus" for union members.

"The public is at the forefront of our conversations and how we can best go about not having a negative effect on anybody, on our communities, on our newcomers, on our vulnerable populations," Covert said.

"We're really hoping that we can get somewhere through this conciliation process and that we can come to an agreement."

In an emailed statement, Cathy Maddigan, the library's director of human resources, said the library is committed to reaching an agreement with its workers, and is "hopeful" that conciliation will resolve outstanding issues.