The head of the union representing Toronto Public Library workers told a budget subcommittee that the city and the library board has been engaged in discriminatory practises against its largely female workforce and it should stop with this budget.
“We’re being discriminated against in the library – we’re 75 per cent female,” said library workers union president Maureen O’Reilly at the first day of public consultation in the 2016 budget debate.
“It’s 2016. It’s no longer acceptable to underpay the ladies of the library and to continually cut them.”
O’Reilly was referring to the Toronto Public Library Board’s recommendation to save $250,000 by cutting 6.7 full-time equivalent page positions – a move that would mean between 12 and 14 of the minimum-wage pages would lose their jobs.
The pages, said Reilly, are bearing much of the weight of a cut in library staffing that she said amounts to 25 per cent since 1992. The position of page was traditionally a part-time job for high school students, but currently, the average age of a page at Toronto Public Library is 43. They do the work of reshelving materials and helping at checkouts.
She was joined by two part-time pages who told their own stories of being unable to afford a home or family and travelling from one end of the city to the other to pick up extra hours in various branches.
“I’m 31, tick-tock,” said Tori MacDonald, 31, who said she worries constantly about money, and does not see a circumstance in which she might have children.
O’Reilly reiterated the position of other deputants at the City Hall session, that Toronto must turn its poverty reduction strategy into “a living document,” and help ensure good jobs are available to keep workers such as pages in a decent standard of living.
CUPE Local 79 President Tim Maguire noted Toronto is “the most unequal city in Canada with the highest concentration of working poor.”
Maguire called the poverty reduction strategy “a signal of hope” that needed to be matched in the budget. While budget chief Gary Crawford has indicated council will likely do so, at this point there is no explicit funding for the strategy in the budget as staff has proposed it.
It wasn’t all union leaders who spoke at the meeting. Grade six students from Mountview Alternative School took the city and Mayor John Tory to task for failing to adequately fund the many promises that have been made with higher tax rates. Mayor Tory has insisted property tax increases might be kept at the rate of inflation.
Mountview student Anya scolded councillors for their fear of property tax increases.
“It is time we stopped thinking about taxes as the monster under our bed and instead thinking of them as the knight in shining armour coming to rescue us from that monster,” Anya read, from the statement prepared as a project by her class.
The committee also heard from the Toronto Region Board of Trade, who came with specific budget recommendations and a set of three priorities: first, to come up with a funded and firm infrastructure plan, to maximize its assets through selling air rights over new Toronto Parking Authority parking lots, and to find more efficient ways to manage services. In particular, they urged councillors to heed the advice of a KPMG report looking at ways to economize at the Toronto Police Service.