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Toronto Toronto council approves agreement with garbage workers, paramedics

Mayor Rob Ford reacts to the vote on TTC Chair and Councillor, Karen Stintz's motion to return to the Transit City plan of the previous council at City Hall.

j.p. moczulski The Globe and Mail

On the day Toronto council ratified a hard-fought contract with its second-largest union, the agreement could face a legal challenge from disgruntled paramedics.

Councillors approved the agreement with CUPE Local 416 on Wednesday, the final vote needed to implement a contract that grants 6,000 garbage workers, paramedics and other outside workers a 6 per-cent pay hike over four years and rolls back some job security provisions.

Robbed of an opportunity to tout the deal by a council rejection of his transit plan last week, Mayor Rob Ford was in a celebratory mood.

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"This has to be the greatest day in this council's history," he said, adding that the new contract could save the city up to $100-million over four years.

Mr. Ford quoted city staff estimates that predict savings of $35-million from "productivity gains from improved efficiency" and $54-million from reductions for post-age 65 retiree benefits. Greater flexibility in shift scheduling and more efficient, modern work practices will save millions of dollars more.

This agreement will save taxpayers a total of up to $100-million and allow City managers to improve customer service through more flexible work practices.

Council ratified the contract by a vote of 35-0.

The scene was bittersweet for some paramedics, however, who say the contract ignores their demand to set up a separate bargaining unit within 416 whose negotiations would be subject to binding arbitration.

The most outspoken among them, Roberta Scott, says she's now considering a legal challenge based on an "erroneous" information sheet distributed to members during the ratification vote on Monday.

The fact sheet stated that paramedics would be granted their own bargaining units under the deal with "full access to interest arbitration," a concession that would put emergency medical service workers on par with police, firefighters and transit workers.

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But Ms. Scott insists that they have not been granted an independent bargaining unit and that their bargaining decisions still rest with CUPE Local 416 president Mark Ferguson, whose leadership she no longer trust.

"We are weighing all our options," she said, moments after speaking to a lawyer about how the paramedics concerns could scuttle the contract.

Ms. Scott, vice-president of the Ontario Paramedics Association, said the issue is grounds for paramedics to split from Local 416.

Union spokesman Cim Nunn contended that the complaints arise from a "small group of unhappy folks."

"Paramedics in this deal are getting precisely what they asked for and have campaigned for years and years," said Mr. Nunn. "Mark Ferguson has fought for years to get them essential services status. He's fought for years so that they would have binding arbitration because they would lose the right to strike. That's what they get in this deal."

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