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Thomson says library workers' new deal put city 'in jeopardy'

Deputy mayor says: 'We could have had 900 employees say we want the same (bonus library workers received). How much does that cost the taxpayer?'
Barrie Public Library 2019-01-18
The downtown branch of the Barrie Public Library. | Shawn Gibson/BarrieToday files

Last year’s signing bonus for Barrie Public Library employees and the timing of a new contract with the city could have cost taxpayers money, says Deputy Mayor Robert Thomson.

During Wednesday night’s Barrie Public Library 2023 budget presentation, Thomson questioned the unspecified bonus to 91 library employees and the impact of the new deal last April on talks between the city and Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 2380, which led to a new contract in late June.

“That actually put the municipality in jeopardy,” Thomson said. “Normally, the way it works is we’re the larger union. We negotiate, you (the library) follow. When you set precedents like that it actually affected our taxpayers because conversations changed in our negotiations.

“We’ll never be able to … actually narrow down the amount you actually cost the taxpayers in our own contract negotiations," the deputy mayor added. 

Last June, the city and CUPE 2380 reached agreement on a three-and-a-half-year deal from July 1, 2022 until Dec. 31, 2025. It includes wage increases of 1.8 per cent on July 1, 2022 and two per cent on each of Jan. 1, 2023, Jan. 1, 2024 and on Jan. 1, 2025. 

The library budget shows salaries and benefits for its employees are to increase to $6.38 million this year from $6.21 million in 2022, an increase of 2.74 per cent. The Barrie Public Library has 41 full-time employees and 57 part-timers.

“So what happens is our members look at that and it sets negotiations and that sets the tone,” Thomson said. “Because I am the steward of people’s money … I have to respect that.

“I would just hope that, you know, whatever happens in budget … that there’s a communication between the library and our team in (human resources) so that this is something that doesn’t happen again," he added. 

Barrie Public Library chief executive officer Lauren Jessop took the blame at Wednesday night’s city council meeting.

“I do agree with that and it was unfortunate that it did pan out that way and, to be honest, that’s my fault,” she said, while noting the union triggered contract negotiations. “I do realize that it did put the city’s HR team in a difficult position, for sure. I think it was just in the timing.”

CUPE Local 2380 represents municipal employees in Innisfil, Barrie, Oro-Medonte Township, Penetanguishene, Springwater Township, Ramara Township, and with the Barrie Public Library.

Library employees belong to what’s called a sub-unit of CUPE Local 2380, said unior president Michael Murphy.

“Typically, when negotiating a collective agreement you look to other sub-units within your own local and try to build on those successes and to develop common language,” he said. “That said, the (Barrie Public Library) is the only library unit we have so that comparison isn't exactly accurate to make.

“In the end, the fact that we managed to negotiate a bonus for our dedicated and hard-working library members did not have any impact on the deal that was reached between the City of Barrie unit and the corporation,” Murphy added.

He declined to put a dollar amount to the bonus.

“I can't speak to specifics, but … it was tiered based on full-time/part-time employee(s),” Murphy said.

But Thomson said Thursday the bonus sets a precedent.

“We could have had 900 employees say we want the same (bonus). How much does that cost the taxpayer?” he asked, noting other city employees did not get a signing bonus. “In my opinion, there was no need for it.

“You can’t quantify what it does, that’s the problem," Thomson said of Barrie Public Library employees signing a new deal first. “You never know the deal we could have gotten.”

Nonetheless, Thomson said he made his point with library officials.

“She (Jessop) admitted it, right, which goes a long way with me,” he said. “Sometimes people make mistakes in organizations ... (but) she was honest, forthcoming and understood.”

Jessop said Thursday the Barrie Public Library had legal representation, as well as library board and management representation, during its contract talks with the union.

The Barrie Public Library’s 2023 budget asks for a 2.43 per cent increase in the city’s grant, to about $9.6 million from $9.37 million last year, or approximately $228,000 more. 

It will be considered by Barrie councillors during budget talks, which begin Feb. 8-9.

City council could consider final approval of its 2023 operating and capital budget, including the Barrie Public Library’s, on Feb. 15.