The president of the union representing more than 20,000 of Toronto's "inside workers" – including daycare workers, lifeguards and long-term-care attendants – said Friday that he expected labour talks with the city to extend past a midnight strike-or-lockout deadline and into the weekend.
However, Tim Maguire, president of Local 79 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, warned that the two sides were still "far apart" on key issues.
"We're still far apart on the city recognizing that it has to reverse the increasing instability for front-line workers and the services they provide," Mr. Maguire told reporters at a downtown hotel Friday afternoon.
While the city has been seeking greater "flexibility" from its work force, Mr. Maguire has repeatedly said his union was seeking greater "stability" for its many part-time and mostly female workers, including guaranteed minimum hours and more predictable scheduling.
He also suggested that city demands for concessions on the benefits it offers its work force would amount to "hundreds if not thousands of dollars" out of pocket for his workers, and could not be accepted by the union. And he said wage increases remained an issue.
Still, he said his union was not negotiating toward a midnight deadline, and that he had no indication that the city would act to lock out workers if the deadline came and went. A work stoppage would not only cancel recreation programs across the city, but also would leave thousands of parents scrambling for child-care arrangements.
"We're not focused on midnight tonight. That's not our goal. Our goal is to get collective agreements," Mr. Maguire said late Friday afternoon.
Late Friday night, with just an hour to go before the midnight strike-lockout deadline, Mr. Maguire emerged briefly from the talks to tell reporters that both sides had agreed to move that deadline back by 24 hours.
Mr. Maguire made the announcement at 11 p.m. He would not elaborate on the state of talks and did not take questions from reporters.
The talks with Local 79 continue despite the announcement of a tentative settlement on Friday morning with CUPE Local 416, which represents the city's outside workers, including its garbage collectors. Both unions have been working together during the negotiations.
That deal came after more than 24 hours of marathon talks at a downtown hotel, and almost 12 hours after a deadline had passed that put Local 416 in a legal strike position and the city in a legal lockout position.
As is normal, no details of the deal were released, as it must still be voted on by the union membership, a process the union said would take place over the next few days. The deal must also be voted on by City Council.
At a press conference, Mayor John Tory said the tentative deal with Local 416 was "responsible" and fell within the mandate that City Council had given its labour relations committee. But he would not answer questions about whether the concessions to the union's benefit plans sought by the city had been achieved. He said he did not personally intervene in the overnight talks, but was kept up to date on their progress.
"I want to give credit where credit is due," Mr. Tory told reporters. "Local 416 and the city's bargaining team worked hard to get this deal done. It takes two to get an agreement."
The mayor said he remained hopeful that a similar "responsible" deal could be reached soon with Local 79, although he said "heavy lifting" remained in those negotiations.
"I hope that they understand that it has to be a deal that is fair to the members of Local 79, but also fair to the taxpayers and the citizens of Toronto," he said, adding that he had a "positive outlook" about the talks.
Earlier this week, CUPE representatives said they had withdrawn almost all of a package of proposals to enhance worker benefits that the city warned would cost taxpayers an extra $9.5-million a year.
Among the union's remaining demands, however, is a request that the city "ensure gender equity" in lifeguard uniforms. At the moment, the city provides only shorts and a "see-through" singlet, leaving women lifeguards to purchase their own bathing suits, the union says, adding that its members have been complaining about the situation for years.
In an interview earlier this week, Mr. Maguire said the union was seeking a subsidy for female lifeguards to cover some of the costs of their bathing suits. He would not reveal how much money was involved. That the city had so far refused to address the issue, he said, illustrates management's attitude in the talks.
"On big issues and small, it has been very difficult to have a dialogue with the city for years," Mr. Maguire said.