Toronto is on course for a mass labour shutdown within three weeks.
The city staggered one step closer to that outcome on Thursday, asking the province to declare a deadlock in negotiations with its second-largest union, CUPE Local 416, representing more than 6,000 outside workers, including garbage collectors and paramedics.
That request for an adjudicated stalemate – formally known as a no-board report – could be granted as early as Tuesday, launching a 17-day countdown until either side can formally declare a strike or lockout.
“In order to put a sharper focus on our interest in obtaining a negotiated agreement, we have been forced to take the next legal step available to us in our ongoing efforts to negotiate an agreement,” city manager Joe Pennachetti wrote in a memo to council and management.
The earliest possible for a work stoppage given that timeline would be Feb. 3.
The no-board request escalates talks to a round-the-clock operation. Bargaining teams had been meeting at the East York Civic Centre. With the newly compressed timeline, they will move to an off-sight hotel so that negotiations can take place on a 24-hour basis.
Doug Holyday, chair of the city’s employee and labour relations committee, tried to quell talk that the request would necessarily trigger labour action. At the same time, he vowed to force a settlement this winter rather than in the summer, when festering trash piles would lend a union strike more impact.
“They’ll be filling our parks up with garbage and we don’t want that to happen,” Mr. Holyday said.
The union has agreed to more than 30 of 70 of the city’s demands, according to Local 416 president Mark Ferguson, but job security provisions remain the major sticking point.
Mr. Ferguson said the union is willing to negotiate every aspect of the contract, but that the city has granted just two half-day bargaining sessions plus three minutes on Thursday. During previous bargaining periods, the two sides have accumulated more than 100 days of negotiations before a no-board request.
“The employers seem more intent on meeting their timeline than negotiating a collective agreement that protects services for residents,” Mr. Ferguson said.
To that point, Mr. Holyday has said that there is no use meeting with Mr. Ferguson, who has earned the nickname of a James Bond villain among city negotiators. “Our negotiators were referring to him as Dr. No and that hasn’t changed,” he said. “Mr. Ferguson has seen fit to say no to everything.”
Mr. Ferguson, meanwhile, has similar sentiments towards city negotiators, calling them “bumps on a log.”
The city has already ramped up efforts to prepare for a work stoppage, training supervisors on Zambonis and heavy-equipment operation, hiring companies to provide contingency services and erecting large fences around transfer stations to deter the kind of union blockades that took place during the 2009 strike.
This round of negotiations are especially packed with issues to work out over the massive move towards contracting out garbage collection, custodial, maintenance, security and other services at the city. The current agreement expired on Dec. 31.
The mayor told The Globe and Mail in December that he wants to shed 7,000 city jobs “give or take.”Report Typo/Error