Toronto maps out contingency plan as strike deadline with outdoor workers looms

TORONTO — The City of Toronto says it's preparing for possible strike action from thousands of its outdoor workers.

Officials say members of CUPE Local 416, the union representing about 5,000 city employees, will be in a position to go on strike or be locked out as of Feb. 27.

The city says it's hoping weekend negotiations conducted with help from a conciliator appointed by the Ontario Ministry of Labour can head off any job action.

But city manager Chris Murray says garbage collection, recreation centres and city-owned event spaces would all be affected if a strike does take place.  

The union says the city was the one to impose the deadline for job action, and the only contingency plan necessary is to reach a fair deal.

Both Local 416 and CUPE Local 79, representing about 22,000 indoor workers, have been without a contract since Dec. 31.

The indoor workers' union is also involved in mediated contract talks, and members have voted to give union leadership a strike mandate.

The union requested a no-board report from the province's Ministry of Labour on Friday afternoon, citing a lack of meaningful negotiations with the city.

If issued, the no-board report would trigger a 17-day countdown to a legal strike position for union members. Local 79 said workers could walk off the job in mid to late March. 

At a Thursday news conference outlining the city's contingency plan, Murray said contract talks with 416 have led to progress on a number of issues.

But he said there will be noticeable inconveniences and delays if the two sides remain at an impasse over issues he said include benefits, parental leave and job security.

"While it is responsible to have these preparations in place, I remain hopeful that we can reach negotiated settlements with no disruption to services for our residents," he said. "We will work around the clock, as we've done in the past, to arrive at an agreement that is fair to our valued employees."

Murray said managers and non-unionized staff are ready to be redeployed in the event of a strike and carry out as many duties as possible, but some service cancellations and delays are inevitable.

Garbage and recycling collection would be suspended for the half of the city that still relies on municipal staff for such services, he said, while a backlog may develop for residents living in the other half where collection was privatized several years ago.

Recreation centres, ice rinks, ski hills, city parks and pools would all be closed if workers walk off the job, he said. Previously scheduled events requiring a city-issued permit would be allowed to proceed, but Murray said no new permits would be granted during any job action.

Paramedics are also represented by Local 416, but they would not be affected by a strike as they have been classified as an essential service.

The union has previously said the primary point of contention is job security, specifically a clause that guarantees jobs for employees with 15 years of service in the event of privatization.

The union said the city wants to leave that provision out of the next contract, ensuring it only applies to people who had reached the service threshold on Dec. 31, 2019. The union argues the clause should continue to be applied so future employees can enjoy the same security.

"There is zero new cost to maintaining this modest job security provision for long-standing city employees," Local president Eddie Mariconda said in a statement. "If the city wants to disrupt services for residents in the middle of winter, that is their call. But I'd ask them to at least be honest about the sticking points between us."

City spokesman Brad Ross said the municipality hopes to maintain the "status quo" when it comes to existing protections, including bumping rights and vacancies.

This report by the Canadian Press was first published Feb. 21, 2020.

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press