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The Globe and Mail

City denies it's 'stonewalling,' calls for CUPE 79 to come to the table

The public game of tit-for-tat is continuing between Toronto and its largest union, with the city offering to hand over the financial details requested by labour leaders along with an ultimatum for talks to begin next week.

In a statement issued Wednesday morning, the city denied charges made by CUPE 79 that it was "stonewalling" the union leadership in its request for details on Toronto's budget shortfall. The city is offering to provide that information by Friday saying that after it meets that request it expects the union, which represents 22,000 inside workers, to show up on Nov. 22 to begin bargaining on a new contract.

CUPE 79 refused to respond publicly to the offer, but a union source said the proposal does not give negotiators enough time to prepare for a meeting next week. The union has noted that talks have never taken place at this point in the contract.

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Councillor Doug Holyday, chair of the city's labour relations committee, characterized the union's delay as a ploy designed to push a possible strike off until the summer months. "The normal tactic by these people is to stall, Mr. Holyday said. "They want to avoid the table until the good weather comes in May or June. That's when their strike weapon is the strongest and they can exert the most pressure on council."

Relations between the city and its unions are tense with just over a month left on the existing contract. Last week, the city accused CUPE 79 of bargaining in bad faith, filing a complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board over its failure to come to the table and asking the Ontario Ministry of Labour to appoint a conciliator.

Talks have begun with the union that represents the city's outside workers, but the head of that local has long speculated that the city is preparing to lock out its workers and is bracing for a prolonged labour disruption.

Also last week, the city manager confirmed that layoffs were coming, after a buyout program fell far short of its goal to eliminate 700 jobs from the city's payroll.

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