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City's inside workers' union seeks pay hike, ban on contracting out

CUPE workers protest outside Metro Hall where city officials were holding a press conference to talk about the continuing CUPE strike in this July 15, 2009 file photo. Toronto’s 23,000 inside workers could be off the job as early as 12:01 a.m. March 25, 2012.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Toronto's inside workers' union is asking for approximately 100 enhancements to their collective agreements, including higher pay for nights and weekends, double-time on holidays and a ban on all contracting out, according to the city's lead negotiator.

In his first wide-ranging comments to the media on talks with CUPE Local 79, Bruce Anderson expressed doubts the city could reach a deal with 23,000 employees before a strike or lockout deadline at 12:01 a.m. March 24.

"The way that 79's acting, I'm not sure they're interested in reaching an agreement," Mr. Anderson, executive director of human resources, said. "They're asking for more and more."

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Mr. Anderson's comments – coupled with a news release detailing 10 of CUPE's asks – come on the same day the union announced it had filed a complaint of bad-faith bargaining against the city at the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

"At this hour in bargaining, we should be moving toward a deal, not away from a deal," said Tim Maguire, the president of Local 79. "This is why Local 79 filed a complaint at the Ontario Labour Relations Board [Monday]in hopes that the city will then change its position [and]change its approach to bargaining to a more helpful approach."

The union alleges management added six items to their list of demands over the weekend. Mr. Anderson denied that, saying the city had tabled a comprehensive offer Thursday and met only briefly with union negotiators Saturday and Sunday.

"As far as we're concerned, their complaint is bogus," Mr. Anderson said.

Both sides are ratcheting up their rhetoric with only 10 days left until workers could walk out, or management could lock employees out. A labour disruption would shutter services across Toronto, including daycares, recreation centres, some arenas and city offices, among others.

Toronto's library workers, meanwhile, are even closer to a work stoppage. Their deadline is this Sunday at 12:01 a.m.

Members of CUPE Local 79's four bargaining units have been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2011. They have not yet taken a strike vote, and Mr. Maguire declined Tuesday to comment on when his members might vote.

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He also declined to say how many concessions the city has asked for since talks began back in October. Mr. Anderson wouldn't say either.

In a news release Tuesday, the city detailed 10 of the enhancements the union is seeking.

They include:

> A ban on using volunteers, such as seniors and students, to do work usually done by CUPE Local 79 members.

> Protection against contracting out for temporary and part-time workers. Right now, only full-time, permanent employees enjoy such protection.

> Double time on holidays, up from time-and-a-half.

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> A 15-per cent increase in shift bonuses.

> A 22-per cent increase in bonuses for part-time workers in old-age homes who consistently work on weekends.

Mr. Maguire said a labour disruption could still be averted.

"We're not dragging our feet. We want discussions on those issues so we can find solutions," he said.

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Kelly Grant is a health reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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