03/07/2012 04:54 EST | Updated 05/07/2012 05:12 EDT

Library union, city wrangle over full-time jobs

The union representing Toronto Public Library workers says it's battling the city to give members full-time jobs as a strike and lockout deadline looms.

An increasingly understaffed library system has made it so part-timers are competing with other part-timers, said CUPE Local 4948 president Maureen O'Reilly. More than half of the workforce at Toronto Public Library is part-time.

"With the deletion of over 100 positions in the bargining unit through the budgeting process this year, we will now have — for the first time — more part-time workers than full-time workers at Toronto Public Library," O'Reilly told a press conference Wednesday.

The system has already faced deep cuts during the city's budget process.

"We fought back on library closures, cuts to service hours, cuts to collections and cuts to programs," she said. "But we were not able to prevent staff cuts, and now they want even more from us at the bargaining table."

Librarians 'feel interchangeable'

Among those still waiting to become full-time librarians with Toronto's public system is Mary Bissell. She joined the Toronto Public Library six years ago and has more than 25 years' worth of experience as a librarian. While Bissell had hoped she'd have secured full-time employment by now, she said it's becoming clear that may not happen soon.

"There's a disturbing trend towards a retail model of staffing at TPL, and part-timers being used to fill holes in the schedule means we feel interchangeable," Bissell said, adding she sometimes works short shifts of three and a half hours for 12 consecutive days.

Only 22 per cent of Toronto Public Library's part-time workers have benefits, O'Reilly said.

Negotiations between the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 4948 and the city reached an impasse last month. Earlier this week, the union took a step closer toward a work stoppage by requesting a "no-board" report, which — if accepted by the province's labour ministry — would clear the way for a strike or lockout.

Under provincial law, a legal strike or lockout can occur 17 days after a report comes out.

Tim Maguire, president of Local 79, said he was expecting to hear back from the province Wednesday, but still had not received a reply on the no-board request.

The city and the union return to the bargaining table on Friday, and have a few days of negotiations scheduled for next week.