Toronto’s most prominent labour leader will decide in the next two weeks whether he’ll quit his job.
Mark Ferguson, the president of CUPE Local 416, announced he was resigning before storming out of a tumultuous meeting with paramedics Wednesday.
However, the union representing Toronto’s outside workers said Thursday that Mr. Ferguson hasn’t made any “formal decisions” yet.
“He is taking two weeks personal time to be with his family after a long and difficult bargaining process. Upon his return he will meet with his executive committee to discuss his current and future role in the union,” the union said in a statement. “Rumours and hearsay arising from an internal member meeting should not be construed as a formal position of Local 416’s leadership or its President.”
The job status of Toronto’s most prominent labour leader is in question after storming out of a late-night meeting.
Mr. Ferguson declared he was quitting his post before leaving a raucous information session with around 150 paramedics on Wednesday night where he was answering pointed questions about the new collective agreement.
“He very clearly said ‘You know what, I quit. I’m out of here,’” said Roberta Scott, one of a group of paramedics who has persistently berated Mr. Ferguson since he came to terms with the city on Feb. 5.
Reached by e-mail Thursday morning, Mr. Ferguson said: "I have no comment at this time."
Following Mr. Ferguson’s exit Wednesday, paramedics in the audience sought clarification from the CUPE representatives who remained.
“We asked if our president had just quit his post and no one could say for sure,” said paramedic Ken Horton, who was sitting in the first row. “He’d said several times during the meeting that if we wanted his resignation we could have it, and then he just up and left. You could tell he was upset. His voice was raised.”
The city’s 1,000 or so paramedics make up a sizable portion of Local 416’s 7,000-strong membership, which includes garbage collectors, parks staff, animal control officers and other outside workers.
Mr. Ferguson was under intense pressure to sign the deal. The city was poised to unilaterally impose new contract terms and public opinion was decidedly opposed to a city-wide strike.
Going into negotiations late last year, paramedics had been advocating for essential service designation and the creation of their own bargaining unit, a move that would have put them on par with police, fire fighters and TTC workers.
The union accepted the city’s demand to hire part-time paramedics and place more control over shift scheduling in management’s hands. And while paramedics now have essential service designation, their bargaining issues won’t necessarily go to arbitration.
“We will have access to arbitration,” said Mr. Horton. “But Mark [Ferguson] and the bargaining team control the access, not the paramedics.”
CUPE official dispute that, saying that the new contract grants paramedics everything they wanted.
In an email to one paramedic obtained by The Globe and Mail, Mr. Ferguson defended the deal as “bar none the best municipal and/or paramedic contract in Canada.”
He then went on a counter-attack. “If you don’t like the job I’ve done for you so far, that’s fine,” he wrote. “Do me a favour and vote for somebody else in the next election.”
He countered some criticisms during the Wednesday night meeting by referring to Ms. Scott and her ilk as “separatists.”
Ms. Scott admits she would welcome a split from 416, but might reconsider given a change at the top. “There’s no trust in the leadership right now,” she said. “I hope [Mr. Ferguson]does resign. Considering everything that’s happened, I don’t think he should be president.”
Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, chair of council’s Employee and Labour Relations Committee, couldn’t say whether Mr. Ferguson had formally quit.
“We're not in a position to get into union squabbles,” he said Thursday. “Clearly this is a fight in the family and there's some disagreement between certain sections of his union and him.”