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Union: Library breaking rules

President says improper closed meetings and strained relationships plaguing process

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Both sides admit there is tension, but for CUPE 960, the union representing Oshawa’s library workers, things have reached a tipping point.

According to union president Tiffany Balducci, the board of the Oshawa Public Libraries is showing apparent disregard for its workers and proper processes when carrying out its meetings, denying delegations and improperly closing meetings to the public.

“The whole responsibility of the library board is to practice good governance and to be responsible for their own operations,” she says.

“Setting that kind of precedent is unfortunate for the organization as a whole.”

While there are numerous concerns for the union’s president, top of mind for Balducci is a March meeting that she says was closed improperly as the board did not have a quorum when voting to close the meeting.

“It was very clear that there wasn’t quorum and they know that this happened and I know that this happened,” she says.

No minutes exist for the March meeting – however, Balducci says they were removed from the website after being posted for a short period of time.

When contacted for clarification on this issue, Frances Newman, OPL’s CEO, noted in an emailed statement that “since there was not a quorum at the March meeting, no minutes are available.”

A request for further clarification to determine if a meeting was held and then eventually cancelled due to a lack of quorum, The Oshawa Express received this response from Newman:

“Thank you for your inquiry. Our volunteer library board continues to work in good faith for the best interests of our community.”

“I’m not surprised. It appears there’s a bit of a brush off,” Balducci says of Newman’s response. “This type of thing seems to be recurring, so it’s a bit of an issue that’s ongoing and we’re not really getting clear answers at all.”

Those unclear answers are also coming in the form of Freedom of Information requests to the board. Balducci says that after learning the board is spending more than $41,000 on legal fees for top law firm Hicks Morley, she requested the tender process for choosing a law firm, but was denied as OPL noted that information was confidential.

“The fact that they keep a shroud of secrecy around everything is concerning,” she says.

For board member and regional councillor Dan Carter, the lawyer costs are “not unreasonable” and a lot of the problems arise from a “clashing of personalities” between the union and executive director, something he says dates back to before Newman took over the position in 2015.

“They have worked hard to try and repair the relationships, to try and make sure they have the opportunity to have open dialogue,” Carter says.

According to Newman, she says they “always strive to have a positive working environment.”

However, Balducci says she does not even receive the courtesy of a handshake prior to meetings from most board members, let alone open discussion.

Looking ahead, Newman notes that managers and union executives met with the Ministry of Labour “on how to improve labour relations going forward.”

And while a positive step, Balducci says that no tangible goals were set for the future.

“We didn’t really set goals as to what we’re both going to do working forward to create this positive environment.”

The next meeting of the library board is scheduled for Sept. 15 at 6:30 p.m. inside the board room at the McLaughlin branch.