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Toronto city unions drop benefits demands as strike deadline looms

More than 28,000 City of Toronto workers could be in a strike or lockout position by this weekend.
Feb. 17, 2016
By David Rider

With a strike or lockout possible as early as Friday, unions representing more than 28,000 City of Toronto workers have tabled a new offer they say drops demands for improved benefits.

Negotiators for CUPE Local 79, representing 23,100 inside workers, and Local 416, representing 5,400 outside workers, separately made the offer to negotiators for the city Wednesday morning.

Meeting with the Star’s editorial board, Tim Maguire of Local 79 and Matt Alloway, of Local 416, said the offer is essentially to “stand pat” on their 2012 contracts, which extracted heavy concessions.

Demands for improved benefits have been dropped, they said, except for better mental-health help for paramedics - a need identified in a report by the city’s ombudsman.

Their offer includes a “modest” salary hike, measures to improve job stability for part-time and full-time temporary workers, and no concessions over the 2012 contract.

“In our framework today that we proposed, we made drastic changes to our original position,” Alloway said.

“We’ve taken a great deal of our proposals off the table in order to allow the city to recognize our commitment to bargaining a collective agreement. We want to avoid a service disruption.”

At city hall, Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong said the unions' latest offer isn’t good enough. The city needs the union to make concessions on benefits and more, he said, to help council contain costs and keep property taxes low.

When asked why the John Tory administration did not take a similar tough line with the Toronto Police Association in contract talks last year, given that police costs are the biggest driver of the budget, Minnan-Wong pointed to a newly appointed task force and said it will find police cost savings.

Local 416 members could legally strike, or be locked out by the city, starting at 12:01 a.m. Friday. The inside workers will be in the same position one day later.

However, there is nothing that prevents bargaining from continuing.

Maguire said it would be destructive for the city to either force his members to vote on a final offer, or arbitrarily impose new terms or conditions on them.

In 2012, after intense negotiations with then-mayor Rob Ford’s administration, Local 79 presented the city’s offer to workers with no recommendation. The members ratified it.

Not this time. Both Maguire and Alloway said that, if the city forces a vote on a non-negotiated settlement, they’ll tell their members to shoot it down.

“If the city attempts to force final offer on our members, we'll say no, we’ll turn down that offer,” Maguire said.

“If the city moves forward on terms and conditions of employment, it sends a very dangerous message to labour relations in the city. The city ought to be leading on how to negotiate with unions, not forcing collective agreements with terms.”

On its bargaining website, the city states it is trying to build responsibility, flexibility, sustainability and “labour mobility” into the new contract.

The city also rejected the unions’ position that it will make no concessions.

“Talk of ‘No Concessions’ has to stop - there needs to be balance at the bargaining table,” it states