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(Darren Calabrese)
(Darren Calabrese)

Council determined not to yield as unions threaten long strike Add to ...

Toronto city councillors emerged dismayed but united from a closed-door briefing Wednesday on the grim state of negotiations to end the civic workers strike, another indication the dispute is far from over.

Led by Mayor David Miller, politicians of all stripes said the city won't yield, even as labour leaders stepped up political pressure on them to relent on concession demands.

"The city is not backing down from some critical positions it needs to achieve in this round of negotiations," said Councillor Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina). "The things we're asking for are not radical in terms of other collective agreements."

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East) said the union's demands are "outrageous" and would tie Toronto in a financial straitjacket.

The city's employee and labour relations committee agreed to give negotiators "a little more flexibility" at the bargaining table, said Mr. Miller. He wouldn't elaborate but said he's not backing off on major issues.

The union "is looking to settlements from the past. It's not the past," Mr. Miller said. "The world changed with the financial crisis."

Wednesday, in a co-ordinated move, the presidents of both union locals, representing 24,000 workers, wrote directly to councillors. They warned of a long strike and demanded a softening of the city's negotiating position.

Mark Ferguson, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 416, said he wrote to councillors to get them to ask "pointed questions so the mandate changes to the point where we can reach a deal." He said "the path to a deal rests solely with the city."

Immediately before yesterday's committee meeting, CUPE Local 79 president Ann Dembinski joined about 50 of her members on the picket line as they chanted, "Miller, Miller, get your elbows to the table." She told reporters that negotiations are "at an impasse," but said she plans to continue bargaining. The suggestion by city officials that progress is being made is "an absolute lie," she said. "We are miles apart."

John Cartwright, president of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, sent an e-mail of his own to labour-friendly councillors with a statement that warns a union backlash could be exploited by right-wing and corporate interests.

"Part of David Miller's base has always been the labour movement and they're [right-wingers]very happy for him to be burning as many bridges as possible with his own base," he said in an interview Wednesday. "We have a lot of concerns over why this agreement is not being reached and why a fair contract has not been put on the table."

In one piece of positive news, a community compost service at Scadding Court Community Centre will not be closed after the provincial Ministry of the Environment agreed to include it in the same city permit that allows a temporary dump at nearby Alexandra Park. Under ministry rules, organizers were facing a $1,400 fee to operate it as a "transfer site" when they opened it to the wider community.

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