by Fred Groves
The doors at 14 library branches in Essex County are expected to reopen this week following the longest strike to take place in this region.
After an unprecedented seven-and-a-half months, the strike that put 57 library workers on the picket line came to an end late last week.
CUPE Local 2974 had been out for 231 days and called their employers, the Essex County Library Board, back to the bargaining table last week.
A vote was held on Thursday and accepted by 70 percent of the union. The following day, the Board agreed and services will soon be back to normal.
“We got the third-party insurer, we bent a little. They wanted to bank their sick days,” Library Board Chairpersom and Essex Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche said.
Workers who are off for four days or more will have to file for 75 percent of missed pay from the insurer.
The main issue from the beginning had been the third-party insurer and short-term disability. The board offered up what it said was its ‘best and final offer,’ before Christmas and have sweetened the pot even more.
When the library workers return to work, they will get a four year deal with a two percent wage hike each year. The Board had originally offered a $2,000 signing bonus, but upped that to $3,000.
At times the strike was a bitter one with each side digging in deeper as time went on. The librarians used the media to post pictures and phone numbers of board members, while the Library Board countered with a detailed list of salaries for each position and how much that would increase to over the four years.
A top librarian currently makes $29.82 an hour.
The Library Board operates on a $3 million budget and saved $1.3m during the strike. Some of that will go into a reserve and the rest, nearly $800,000, was returned to the county.
Meloche said he is glad that the strike is finally over and that services will be restored.
“It was hard keeping up with the issues and talking to residents was very time consuming. They wanted their libraries open.”