Canada : Food drive held for striking Essex County library workers
Union members from across Windsor-Essex gathered for a food drive supporting striking library workers
About 300 people, most representing union locals across the area, met outside the Essex
Waving flags and chanting, union members walked along Fairview Avenue acknowledging the honks from passing vehicles. Several union representatives were also on hand to address the crowd. Candace Rennick, secretary-treasurer of CUPE Ontario, warmed up the crowd with messages of support from across the province.
"They say library workers are quiet and this line's been kind of quiet, but now is not the time to be quiet," said Rennick.
Rennick praised the library employees, earning roughly $300 a week on strike pay, for their perseverance.
"You folks have been out on the picket line now for over a month, and I want you to know that we know it's not easy," said Rennick.
Close to two dozen CUPE locals had members at the rally, along with members from Unifor, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the machinist's union, the London Labour Council and the Windsor University Faculty Association.
Former Canadian Auto Workers president Ken Lewenza was also on hand at the event, along with MPP Lisa Gretzky (NDP-Windsor West). Lewenza cited recent expansion in Windsor-Essex by Chrysler Canada and Windsor Salt as proof that the area is growing and local labour is strong.
"Jobs that pay decent wages and decent benefits, all done through collective bargaining," said Lewenza.
Lewenza added that it was important to note that all sectors of employment must thrive in order to stimulate the local economy.
"Without a strong private sector, you can't have a strong public sector," said Lewenza. "Over the last decade, the public sector has said over and over and over that no longer can we afford the benefits and working conditions that workers achieved before us."
The primary issue between the library employees and the Essex County board has been sick pay. Previously, employees had 18 paid sick and personal days per year, which could be banked if they were not used. The library board, seeing a need to eventually eliminate such a large bank of sick days, had proposed a plan allowing eight and a half sick days a year with unused days paid out at year's end and no carryover. The board had also proposed a short-term disability insurance plan that library employees could use their banked sick days to pay into.
Board chairman Richard Meloche told the Windsor Star that the proposal on the table was a "very, very, very generous offer". The library system's 14 branches, encompassing areas of the county outside the city of Windsor, have been closed since the strike began.
For those on the picket lines, library worker and CUPE spokesperson Lori Wightman told the gathering Thursday that the striking employees had no way to express the gratitude they felt.
"I don't event have the words to say thank you," said Wightman. "Every once in a while you get a day like today when the support is so absolutely overwhelming that you know you can do this for as long as you have to."
– This story is updated from an earlier version