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Toronto's inside workers vow not to strike this weekend unless provoked

Maureen O'Reilly (centre behind microphone), president of CUPE Local 4948, addresses Toronto public library workers gathered outside City Hall on March 19, 2012. Toronto's 2,300 library employees walked off the job after 5 p.m. Sunday, shuttering 98 branches across the city.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Toronto's 23,000 inside workers will not strike this weekend unless the Ford administration unilaterally imposes a new contract, the president of CUPE Local 79 is vowing.

Tim Maguire made the "guarantee" as thousands of his members "voted overwhelmingly" in favour of giving their union a strike mandate. In the vote, CUPE 69 got a strike mandate of over 85 per cent. They did not reveal what the turnout was.

"We won't strike this weekend solely because we don't have a collective agreement," Mr. Maguire told a news conference on Tuesday. "If the city moves to change the terms and conditions to strip away basic employment rights from childcare workers, from the people that protect Toronto's water, from recreation programmers at the city, then we will consider that [strike] option."

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CUPE Local 79, which represents workers at daycares, recreation centres, old-age homes and other city offices, will be in a legal strike position at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. The city could lock out workers at the same hour.

When a similar deadline loomed for CUPE 416 in February, management threatened to dictate new working terms and conditions for 6,000 outside workers, prompting the union to settle.

Unless the city makes good on such a threat with Local 79, the inside workers will stay on the job this weekend, Mr. Maguire promised.

Toronto's deputy mayor wouldn't rule out imposing a contract or locking out employees, but he said the city is still aiming for a negotiated settlement.

"They have met with us exactly 50 minutes since last Thursday," Doug Holyday said. "That deadline's been ticking away. It's almost irresponsible. If they want to get a deal, then get to the table and we can get a deal."

Mr. Holyday and Bruce Anderson, the city's executive director of Human Resources, said the union is still seeking about 85 enhancements to its four collective agreements, down from 100 in earlier negotiations.

The union counters that management is angling to dilute benefits, job security and protections against layoffs.

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Hundreds of workers lined up around the block on Tuesday outside the Hyatt Regency on King Street West, one of three voting locations, to cast their strike votes.

Inside a ballroom, labour leaders handed out flyers that listed some of the concessions the city is seeking, including limiting the so-called "jobs for life" clause to workers with 17 years or more of seniority.

Under the contracts that expired at the end of last year, all full-time, permanent employees are guaranteed a post elsewhere on the payroll if their jobs are eliminated by privatization or new technology.

As well, the city has proposed a five-year deal, which would prevent the inside workers from negotiating in concert with the outside workers next time around. Local 416 signed a four-year agreement.

"That basically drives a wedge between the two locals," said Paula Prieditis, a veteran urban planner, after voting in favour of a strike. The city's proposals to reduce paid sick days are "Draconian," she added.

Maryam Najari, a 60-year-old part-time childcare aid, said she voted yes because she feared losing her job.

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"We don't want to strike, but what can we do?" she said.

Meanwhile, Toronto's library workers' union met briefly with management Tuesday morning, a CUPE spokesman confirmed. The library strike that began Sunday continues, with 98 branches closed and all but some online services halted.

With a file from The Canadian Press

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