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Toronto community centre, daycare workers edge closer to strike as talks break down

File photo: Mayor John Tory is seen during a press conference at city hall in Toronto on June 11, 2015.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Toronto inched closer to a citywide work stoppage on Sunday after talks broke down with the union representing indoor municipal workers over a contentious new contract for its members.

In consecutive press conferences held across the street from one another, Mayor John Tory and CUPE Local 79 president Tim Maguire offered sharply divergent accounts of what took place in negotiations on Saturday night, with each accusing the other of scuttling talks.

In the event of a strike or a lockout for the union's roughly 20,000 members, city daycares and community centres would be closed, along with a handful of libraries.

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The mayor told reporters gathered in his office that city negotiators delivered a proposal at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, and that the union dismissed the deal and dispatched the provincial mediator overseeing talks "without warning or explanation."

Meanwhile, about an hour later in a hotel across the street, Mr. Maguire said that the city, not his union, had delivered an ultimatum and ended discussions.

"Last night, the city stopped negotiating," he said. "We were told it was a final offer."

Both sides deny that labour disruption is imminent, and even as Mr. Tory described the city's most recent offer as its "last," he said he was ready to continue negotiations.

"For our part, the city negotiating team will be at the hotel, by the phone, awaiting a call to go back to the negotiating table and resume talks with the mediator," said Mr. Tory.

"Despite our best efforts, the union remains unwilling to move forward."

Meanwhile, Mr. Maguire said he had called the mediator "to clarify any misunderstanding" about how matters ended on Saturday night.

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"We're here to negotiate," he insisted.

In another move that could mar talks, the city posted its contract offer online Sunday morning, along with details of a contingency plan in case of a work stoppage.

"I believe it is time for our employees and the public to understand what is at stake and exactly what is in our offer," said Mr. Tory. "This is about being honest and open and transparent."

Mr. Maguire decried the city's decision.

"I don't think it's helpful for the city to post its offers," he said. "It's disrespectful to the bargaining process."

He said the union was awaiting firmer commitments on predictability in scheduling and assurances that its members would be protected from any contracting out of services.

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"It's never been about the money," he said.

Mr. Tory called the contents of city's offer "fair and reasonable" and said that it addressed the union's core demands around scheduling, barriers to job promotion, and gender equity.

The wage hike contained in the city proposal was the same as the one municipal outdoor workers, represented by CUPE Local 416, voted to accept on Friday, said Mr. Tory.

With one mammoth contract safely under his belt, Mr. Tory was reluctant to speculate about a possible lockout of indoor workers.

And despite his sharp words for the Mayor, Mr. Maguire stopped short of saying that a strike was inevitable.

"We don't feel that's our only choice," he said.

The union has vowed to continue its work-to-rule campaign on Monday to maintain pressure on the city.

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