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City's latest offer would strip job security from all but longest-serving employees, union says

Toronto is trying to "gut" labour agreements with a new offer that would end job security for all but the longest-serving employees, says the union leader representing the city's more than 6,000 outside workers.

Describing the city's latest tactics as "quite dire, and reckless and irresponsible," CUPE local president Mark Ferguson said his union is ready to talk to the city about its demands for flexibility on issues of redeployment and scheduling, but management is not at the table.

Mr. Ferguson's comments followed a city offer Monday morning that included an end to job security for workers with less than 25-years on the job in return for a lump-sum payment over four years. The city rejected a three-year wage-freeze offer made by the union on Friday.

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The city's new offer was made as the two sides returned to the bargaining table and comes as the clock is ticking on a deadline for a possible lockout or strike.

Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, who chairs the city's labour relations committee, said the offer would remove for all but long-time workers the so-called "jobs for life" provision that protects workers from layoffs because of contracting out. He described the lump-sum payment as a "modest" measure.

CUPE estimates the payment would average about $250 each year, but the city puts it higher, at between $300 and $400.

"We feel it would be in order under the circumstances if we can make changes that benefit the taxpayers," Mr. Holyday said about the payment. "We have always said we would be willing to talk about wages and benefits, but that wasn't the only issue."

Mr. Holyday said the city felt compelled to make its offer public because the union made its wage-freeze offer last week at a news conference. The offer was also presented to the union at the bargaining table, he said.

Mr. Ferguson saw things differently, noting that city staff left the table after one hour, refusing to discuss their offer. The next session is scheduled for Thursday, but Mr. Ferguson said the union is willing to meet before that.

"All indications at this point are that they have no interest in bargaining whatsoever," he said. "This employer is looking to gut this collective agreement."

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The local, which includes garbage workers, paramedics and other outside workers, faces the prospect of a lockout within three weeks. The union estimates a three-year wage freeze would save the city about $25.5-million over that period, at a time when Toronto council is struggling to find money to save programs.

As council gets ready to debate the 2012 budget Tuesday morning, CUPE 416 also has distributed about 350,000 flyers in key wards represented by about a dozen councillors whose vote could swing support for proposed cuts.

The city pushed Toronto closer to an all-out work stoppage last week by asking the provincial Minister of Labour to declare an official stalemate in negotiations with Local 416, also called a declaration of "no-board." The province is expected to come back with a no-board report as soon as Tuesday, starting a 17-day countdown until the city can declare a lockout or the union can strike.

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Toronto City Hall bureau chief


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