Toronto could be heading for a stoppage by outside workers – affecting ice rinks, garbage pickup and a host of other city services.
The 5,000 members of the Toronto Civic Employees Union Local 416, which is part of CUPE, will be in a strike or lockout position as of 12:01 a.m. on Thursday. On Monday, the union presented its latest negotiating position, which city officials said they were digesting Tuesday.
The previous contract ended on the last day of 2019 and the two sides, in recent negotiations, have been unable to bridge gaps on benefits, sick leave and job security. Particularly contentious is what Mayor John Tory called a “jobs for life” provision that protects veteran workers if their roles are outsourced.
Toronto has put together contingency plans, but a work stoppage could still have a major impact on residents.
Outdoor ice rinks and recreational facilities could be forced to close. Recycling and garbage collection east of Yonge Street – which has not been outsourced, unlike refuse pickup west of Yonge – would be suspended, as would litter collection in parks.
Water services facilities would no longer be maintained by staff and would be run by management. Clearing snow from roads has already been contracted out and should not be affected.
“We will do our very best to maintain as full a suite of services … as we can,” Mr. Tory said this week. “But I think those very same contingency plans also indicated there would be some things in the community – some recreational programs and so on – that wouldn’t be continued during the time of a work stoppage.”
Mr. Tory was speaking to reporters late Monday, responding to a press briefing by the union, and he spent much of his remarks stressing that the city “will not be going backward on jobs for life,” referring to a provision in the last contract that protected long-standing employees from job loss in the event of privatization. These employees could still be terminated for disciplinary or other reasons.
In the talks that led to the previous contract, the union agreed to retain this protection only for employees who had 15 years of service, as of the end of 2019. The union is now trying to extend this for the duration of the new contract, meaning that employees who reach 15 years of service over the next four years would be similarly protected.
Local president Eddie Mariconda said Tuesday it was misleading to talk about going backward on this protection, noting that everything in the now-expired former contract is open to renegotiation.
“The spin that the city’s putting on it is, well no, they agreed that we can’t renegotiate this any more; that’s not what was agreed to at the table,” he said in an interview.
“Like everything else we agreed to in the [last] collective agreement, it’s up for renegotiation. We agreed to benefits last time, right, [but that] hasn’t stopped them from trying to claw back on the benefits.”
Mr. Tory said extending the job-protection provision is untenable, arguing that such security is a benefit enjoyed by almost no one and that it prevents the city acting nimbly in a changing world.
Other sticking points have included benefits and sick leave.
The city wants to cap claims for orthotics and orthopedics that can be claimed by dependants of workers. It also wants to limit benefits for erectile dysfunction drugs, which the city says cost $420,000 for outside workers last year. And it wants to reduce union members’ ability to take less than half a day off sick without it being logged as a sick day.
Mr. Mariconda declined to discuss its current position on benefits, saying that these should be sorted out at the bargaining table.