City reduces library staffing shortage, but union says more employees needed


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A persistent staffing shortage that previously forced the city to reduce hours at Winnipeg’s public libraries has now eased, though a union says there are still too few employees.

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A persistent staffing shortage that previously forced the city to reduce hours at Winnipeg’s public libraries has now eased, though a union says there are still too few employees.

The vacancy rate for all city libraries combined was 7.8 per cent, with 28 unfilled positions, as of Jan. 17, down from 22.8 per cent vacancy and 92 unfilled positions on July 23, 2021, according to data from the city.

(The vacancy percentages differ from past city reports due to a later data correction.)

During the same period, the total number of library staff positions dropped to 358 this year from 404 in 2021, while full-time equivalent positions remained static at 215.42 for both years.

Those figures show a substantial improvement, according to Karin Borland, the city’s manager of library services.

“Since June, we hired seven new branch head librarians. These are key leaders in our facilities. With almost one (hired) a month, that’s really unprecedented,” said Borland. “We’ve (also) had a couple of rounds of shelver recruitment, the entry-level position… (so) we’re in a much better position (than last year.)”

The data shows the library staff count rose to 330 this year from 312 in 2021.

While the total number of available positions dropped by 46, Borland said that number can be misleading since some part-time positions may have been eliminated to create a single full-time slot.

The full-time equivalent number of staff held constant, which measures the total number of full-time employees based on hours worked rather than the actual number of individual staff members. (Each part-time employee would count as a fraction of one FTE).

Borland said that FTE figure is determined by the council-imposed budget for library services, while the number of individual staff can vary by availability and staffing needs.

The city previously confirmed library hours were sometimes shortened in 2020, 2021 and 2022, due to both the pandemic and a lack of employees. Borland said filling more staff positions has prevented the need to continue cutting hours in recent months.

“Since June, we have officially had full, regular, unreduced, pre-COVID hours,” she said.

The manager said work is still underway to address the remaining staff shortage, noting it can fluctuate due to internal promotions.

The city noted libraries and other departments have also been affected by an international labour shortage.

“Anecdotally, we can advise that the City of Winnipeg is experiencing recruitment and retention challenges in a very competitive post-pandemic job market. This challenge is not unique to the city as an employer, and we’re exploring all options to address this as best we can,” city spokesman David Driedger said in an emailed statement.

The union that represents library staff argues the continued vacancies and reduced overall number of positions is still creating heavy workloads.

“It’s important to know that (some) positions have been held vacant for five to 10 years. The city’s been using vacancy management as a cost-saving means for a long time now,” said Gord Delbridge, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500.

Delbridge said more workers are needed to better spread out tasks, as the current worker shortage creates excessive stress for existing employees.

“Right now, what’s happening with the City of Winnipeg as a whole, they’re basically skeleton crews and that’s putting a lot of burden on the staff to do more with less,” he said.

The union leader suggested the city could increase employee salaries and add new education and training options to better attract and retain workers.

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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