Mayor, union leaders announce tentative deal to end 36-day strike
Amy Fuller, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, July 27, 2009 5:30PM EDT
TORONTO - Canada's biggest city and tens of thousands of striking workers reached a tentative deal Monday, but the mounds of rotting trash on Toronto's streets won't be disappearing yet.
Thousands of garbage collectors and other outside workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees achieved the basis for a deal Monday morning. Later in the day, the city came to an agreement with inside workers.
At a news conference at city hall, Mayor David Miller was conciliatory, praising residents and small business operators for the "tremendous goodwill" they displayed during the strike, and urging residents to be nice to city workers when they return to work.
Miller said temporary dumps will remain open for the rest of the week. Residents can help by continuing to keep their garbage at home if they can, he said.
But with the Civic Holiday coming early next week, cleanup efforts likely won't get underway for several days. When they do begin, the process of clearing the trash and cleaning city swimming pools, daycares and parks won't happen overnight either.
As many as 30,000 municipal workers walked off the job June 22. The strike continued for more than five weeks, halting garbage pickup and leaving Toronto's parks piled high with thousands of tonnes of waste.
Designer garbage bins newly installed on city streets overflowed, while homeowners hauled bags of trash to temporary dump sites. The city issued hundreds of fines and warnings for illegal dumping.
A host of other city services ground to a halt as well. Stranded parents watched all 57 city-run daycare centres close. Ferry service to the popular Toronto islands stopped, with smaller ferries carrying island residents only. Parks stayed open, but maintenance workers no longer kept up the grounds and programming ended.
City pools, community and fitness centres and golf courses closed. The doors shut at five public library branches. Wedding parties couldn't get permits for wedding photos in city parks. With social service workers on the picket line, unemployed residents couldn't apply for welfare payments.
As rotting garbage created fears of rats running rampant, medical officials issued warnings about the health risks. Dr. Allison McGeer, head of infection control at Mount Sinai Hospital, said Toronto could expect more deaths from the worldwide H1N1 pandemic because of the strike.
Dr. David McKeown, Toronto's medical officer of health, countered that the strike did not affect the city's response to the pandemic since non-union staff carried on with planning efforts.
Angry residents showed their frustration as the strike dragged through the first month of summer. YouTube videos documented flaring tempers as citizens clashed with striking union employees. One driver rammed a garbage can. Another, trying to enter a municipal parking lot to use the washroom, drove onto the sidewalk and yelled, "I have to go!" as union workers surrounded the car.
Toronto earned a place in a San Francisco Chronicle travel advisory, ahead of warnings about a military coup in Honduras and bubonic plague in Libya. The article noted trash was piling up and Toronto residents were complaining of the stench.
Miller responded with an appearance on CNN in which he appealed to Americans to continue visiting Toronto.
But the mayor found himself lampooned in local media. Maclean's magazine ran a cover with the headline "Toronto Stinks," showing the embattled mayor with a banana peel on his head, stuck in a garbage bin and surrounded by raccoons and litter.
Other media coverage included a piece in the Toronto Star by one of the striking workers, 16-year-old Tamie Dolny, whose father works as a manager for the city. Dolny had envisioned a summer as a lifeguard and swimming instructor at a city pool.
"Instead, as a member of CUPE Local 79, I'm on strike," she wrote, offering a sympathetic view of unionized workers denied pay raises and treated disrespectfully by an angry public.
"Without question, this has been a difficult period for everyone, the public and our employees, both unionized and non-unionized," Miller said.
Ann Dembinski, who led the CUPE local representing inside workers, said she was happy to announce a tentative deal, but criticized the bargaining process. "Labour relations have been set back decades," she said Monday.
On the trash-strewn streets, people greeted the news of a deal with relief.
"Toronto is a beautiful city and it's been a shame to have tourists come here and see this mess, said Jeanette Coyea, 51, a bank manager. "
"I'm very proud of Toronto and it will be nice to see it cleaned up again."
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