Tim Maguire, the tie-and-jeans-wearing leader of Toronto's largest municipal workers union, was distinctly subdued on Thursday as he announced a tentative four-year labour agreement that came after what he called "tough slogging" at the bargaining table.
Neither Mr. Maguire nor Mayor John Tory would reveal the terms of the deal, which must still be voted on by the more than 20,000 members of Local 79 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents daycare attendants, swimming instructors and the city's other "inside workers."
But judging from Mr. Maguire's tepid comments, management must have largely got its way. He called the deal "the best collective agreements we were able to achieve under the circumstances," and he said the city was "reluctant" to deal with issues the union raised.
It's no wonder, since the city's two main municipal unions appear weaker than ever before in recent memory.
Carlo Fanelli, an instructor in Ryerson University's politics department who has studied the city's unions, said they are still dealing with the fallout from the financial crisis of 2008: "What we have seen since 2008-2009 is a cascading series of concessions."
CUPE Local 79 also faced the final days of bargaining without the added clout of CUPE Local 416, which represents garbage collectors and other "outside workers" and ratified its own deal with the city last week. Both unions walked out together in strikes in 2002 and 2009.
Local 416 has itself been weakened by the contracting out of garbage pickup west of Yonge Street, meaning that only half of the city's service would affected by a strike. Contracting out the rest is a future possibility.
The centrepiece of this round of talks was a city demand for the phase-out of a job-protection provision, often called a "jobs for life" clause, enjoyed by both unions. The clause, first accepted in 1999 by then-mayor Mel Lastman to avoid a strike, protected employees with 15 years of service from being laid off if their jobs were contracted out. Under the terms of the deal already agreed to by Local 416, it would be grandfathered for some current workers, but newer workers would not receive it.
Until Thursday, Local 79 was warning that accepting this clause would be unfair to its employees as well as open the door to "privatizing" city services such as child care and community centres.
Neither side would reveal publicly on Thursday whether Local 79 had also agreed to the concession.
Mr. Maguire referred elliptically to the Local 416 deal: "There is a deal out there that is a factor, the deal with Local 416."
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chairman of council's employee and labour relations committee, would only say the Local 79 deal was "within the framework" of the Local 416 settlement. Mr. Tory has repeatedly insisted that any deal with Local 79 had to align with the Local 416 settlement.
Whatever the details, it is clear that the large and powerful city unions inadvertently created when the provincial government under premier Mike Harris amalgamated the separate cities that made up Metro Toronto into one are less of a force than they once were.
In an interview, Mr. Minnan-Wong said the change has a lot to do with the outrage that erupted over the six-week 2009 strike Toronto suffered when David Miller was mayor: "People all of sudden who woke up to the great employment packages that the municipal sector in Toronto receive. It was a remarkable event … and it still carries over."
Tough talks in 2012 resulted in the unions accepting concessions. The strategy under then-mayor Rob Ford saw the city start talks earlier, to avoid having them drag on into summer, when a garbage strike is more damaging.
Mr. Maguire agreed that times are tough for both public-sector and private-sector unions: "I think we are in an era of aggressive bargaining by employers. … But our union is building as well. So we will continue on building into the future and for the next four years."