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Hiding behind UCP youth minimum wage cut, Edmonton Public Library slashes library pages' pay

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Stanley Milner branch of the Edmonton Public Library. Photo: Marcia O'Connor/Flickr

Using the wording of its collective agreement with Civic Service Union 52 as an excuse, and the United Conservative government's minimum wage reduction for students under 18 as the trigger, Edmonton Public Library is handing its youth pages pay cuts of $2.30 to $2.50 per hour.

This is pretty shameful for an institution whose mission is supposedly to cater to society's most vulnerable and which nurtures a public image as a major contributor to our regional community.

But, gee, I guess the opportunity to squeeze its most vulnerable employees was just too much to resist when the Kenney government introduced its disgraceful $13-per-hour "youth minimum wage," a 13-per-cent pay cut of $2 from the $15-per-hour minimum wage instituted by the NDP. But the UCP's generous supporters in the fast-food industry -- a group that we expect to be more ruthless than public libraries -- had to be rewarded.

The EPL youth pay cut comes into effect on June 26. EPL spokespeople make it sound as they had no choice, what with the government's young-student pay cut taking effect that day and CSU 52's collective agreement setting out rates of pay for student pages in three steps: minimum wage plus 15 per cent, plus 20 per cent, and plus 25 per cent.

This is baloney, of course. The library has the option of not hammering its student pages, just leaving their pay rate at $15 per hour plus the premium until the collective agreement could be re-worded in collective bargaining.

Obviously, since at the time the contract was inked no one knew about the UCP's future favour to the fast-food industry, there's money in the EPL budget to continue paying the $15-based rate.

Lest you think all libraries in the region are doing the same thing, they are not. St. Albert's Public Library, on whose board I sat for several years, will not be lowering the wages of its library pages. "Of course not," the library director exclaimed when I asked. I think he was appalled I'd even suggest such a thing.

The EPL youth pay cut also makes a lie of Premier Jason Kenney's promise that workers subject to collective agreements wouldn't be impacted by his minimum wage cuts.

I'm sure CSU 52 will try to rectify this in its next round of collective bargaining.

I don't know if this bright idea originated with the EPL board or library management and it would be pointless to ask. Regardless, readers of this blog can let EPL management know what they think of the policy at feedback@epl.ca.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: Marcia O'Connor/Flickr

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