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With talks at a stalemate, countdown to inside workers strike or lockout begins

The two curved towers at Toronto city hall are visible above the elevated walkway at Nathan Phillip Square on February 28 2012.

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

Talks with Toronto's largest civic union have reached an impasse, prompting the city to start the countdown to a strike or lockout of 23,000 workers.

The city requested a "no-board" report from the province Friday, a move that signals negotiations with CUPE Local 79 are at a stalemate. If the province grants the city's request by the middle of next week, a 17-day clock would begin ticking toward a labour disruption at the end of this month.

Daycares, community centres, old-age homes, public-health offices and a wide range of other city services would be affected by the work stoppage.

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"We've met with [CUPE Local 79]and we've talked about some of the minor matters, but not got to the major matters," Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said. "Unless we put the deadline in place, we were just going to sit there and watch the wallpaper for a long time."

Negotiations with the union representing inside workers have been under way since October. Local 79's four bargaining units have been without contracts since the end of last year.

Talks are continuing, and the president of Local 79 insists a deal can be concluded without a strike or lockout.

"We pledge to the public that we're not interested in a conflict," Tim Maguire told reporters Friday. "We want a negotiated settlement."

The city's move comes one day after the province granted the library workers' request for a no board, setting a strike or lockout date of 12:01 a.m. March 18 for 2,300 members of CUPE Local 4948.

Talks with both unions are unfolding against the backdrop of a hard-fought deal reached with the city's outside workers last month.

As negotiations heated up in that case, CUPE Local 416 made the unusual offer of a wage freeze. Mr. Maguire said his local won't follow suit.

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"We're not looking at offering a wage freeze," he said.

In the end, the outside workers ratified a four-year collective agreement that included a six-per-cent pay increase.

That deal rolled back some job-security provisions, including a clause that protected all permanent employees from losing their jobs to contracting out or new technology. Now only those with 15 years of experience are protected.

If the same change was made to Local 79's contracts, 50 per cent of permanent, full-time inside workers would be stripped of job security, Mr. Maguire said.

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