The city and the union representing its outside workers have agreed to continue negotiating for the next two days, thereby averting a work stoppage that could have begun just after midnight.
The city requested a no-board report from the Ministry of Labour earlier this month, effectively paving the way for a work stoppage that would result in the suspension of garbage collection east of Yonge Street and the closure of recreation centres and rinks city-wide.
That work stoppage, however, is on hold for now after both the city and CUPE Local 416 agreed on Wednesday afternoon to extend a midnight deadline for a deal by another 48 hours and bring in lawyer William Kaplan to act as a mediator.
The move means that the earliest a strike or lockout could begin would be 12:01 a.m. on Saturday.
“Anytime you have a union and an employer who are talking productively and constructively enough to agree to extend a deadline and keep on with the talks it is a good sign. It means that both parties see value in continuing to talk towards arriving at a settlement,” Mayor John Tory told reporters on Wednesday afternoon. “It is not an agreement, which would be the ultimate positive development but nonetheless it is a positive development.”
Job security remains a stumbling block to deal
Talks between the city and CUPE Local 416 have been ongoing since Feb. 18 and are expected to continue in the lead up to the new deadline.
One of the main sticking points involves a job security provision, which protects workers with 15 years or more of seniority from losing their jobs “as a result of contracting out or privatization.”
Tory has said that the union agreed to a “sunset clause” in the last collective agreement that means that employees who reach the 15-year milestone after Dec. 31, 2019 will no longer qualify for protection under the clause.
But the union has denied agreeing to phase out the clause and have accused the city of pursuing a secret agenda to privatize services.
The city did privatize garbage collection west of Yonge Street in 2013 and considered opening the door to doing so in Scarborough in 2017, though that proposal ultimately went nowhere despite strong support from Tory.
“It is important to know what their real agenda is. They use keywords like being flexible but it has always been about wanting to privatize,” CUPE Local 416 President Eddie Mariconda told reporters earlier on Wednesday afternoon.
‘No plans’ to privatize services
Tory said that while there are ‘no plans’ to privatize city services, the elimination of the job security clause is needed in order to allow the city “modernize and have the flexibility to provide the best services in the best way possible to residents.”
He said that while he is “always looking for better ways to run the city government,” he is not someone who has an “ideological mantra that has anything to do with privatization or contracting out (services).”
“There is just no such concept as jobs for life anywhere anymore. People might say that is shame but the fact is that we are good employers. Not one member of (CUPE) Local 416 has lost their job over the previous four years (due to privatization) and I just would say that we are going to treat our employees fairly,” he said.
CUPE Local 416 has previously said that they have no intention of striking and are willing to remain at the table for as long as needed.
Tory, however, did tell reporters earlier on Wednesday that the uncertainty created by the situation "can't go on indefinitely."
Significant impact on GTHL
If there is a work stoppage involving members of CUPE Local 416 later this week, it will likely have a significant effect on city services.
The city has said that it will get management and non-union staff to fill in some gaps but it says that those employees only make up about 15 per cent of its workforce and will be only be able to deliver “critical services.”
Because garbage collection west of Yonge Street is privatized it would continue, however the city says that blue bins will not be picked up and all organic materials will need to be placed in garbage bins. They also say that staff will seal off most of the 10,000 public litter bins located across the city with the exception of a small number that are located in the downtown core.
The lone bit of good news is that about 90 per cent of the workers involved in snow-clearing and winter road maintenance are contracted out and the city says that plowing and salting would be largely unaffected by a work stoppage.
Many city facilities would be closed, however, including all community and recreation centres, greenhouses and conservatories, pools, arenas, outdoor ice rinks, fitness centres and ski hills.
In a notice sent to parents, the Greater Toronto Hockey League said that the closure of City of Toronto facilities would have a “major impact” on its house league and select programs, the majority of which “operate solely” in facilities that would be shuttered by a work stoppage.
The GTHL said that its competitive programs (A, AA and AAA) have about 30 per cent of their games in facilities that would be affected.
In the event of a work stoppage, the GTHL said, it would work to relocate playoff games in those leagues to municipal facilities in Mississauga, Vaughan, and Markham that it has access to.
CUPE 416 represents about 5,000 outside workers, including paramedics, garbage collectors, and park staff.
The union has been without a contract since Dec. 31.
The city’s inside workers’ union, CUPE 79, is also currently without a contract. They will enter into a legal strike position and the city will be in a legal lockout position at 12:01 a.m. on March 14.