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The union head representing the city's outside workers expects his 6,700 members will be locked out by mid-January.

That portent of union unrest comes as city officials launch a buy-out plan available to 17,000 employees and politicians muse openly about mass lay-offs – all of which sets the stage for a long fall and winter of labour strife in Toronto.

Mark Ferguson, president of CUPE Local 416, was responding to questions on a consultant's proposal to save costs by merging Toronto's fire and EMS workers, something he says has "failed miserably" in other cities.

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Asked if he expects a lockout when the current CUPE contract with the city expires on Dec. 31, he said "I do expect that with this administration a lock-out will take place."

He later said that the likely date of a lockout would fall in mid-January.

Mr. Ferguson is already battling the city over Mayor Rob Ford's plan to contract out at least 300 Toronto garbage workers and dozens of police station custodians.

That scheme currently applies to garbage collectors based between Yonge Street and the Humber River, but Mr. Ford has stated that he wants to spread those privatization efforts across the rest of the city.

The Local 416 membership includes 5,000 permanent employees and 1,700 temporary staff.

The two sides will begin bargaining on Oct. 1.

One major issue in play will be CUPE's iron-clad jobs provision that guarantees all permanent, full-time employees displaced by privatization another job elsewhere in the municipal work force.

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"I know that I am going to be at the table driving to get a deal," said Mr. Ferguson. "I don't think that I have seen any willingness from the civic administration to work with the union. In fact we were scheduled for a labour relations committee [meeting]with the mayor in January and we are still waiting for that meeting."

When asked about the fears of a lockout, Adrienne Batra, the mayor's press secretary, said, "It's certainly news to us.

Perhaps they know something we do not."

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