The city says that it has asked the province to appoint a conciliator to assist in negotiations with a union representing thousands of its outside workers.

Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who is the chair of the city’s collective bargaining subcommittee, said in a statement that the request was made in December after CUPE Local 416 “issued dates for a strike vote in January.”

He said that the move is a “normal step in collective bargaining,” though it is also required before any party can be in a legal strike or lockout position.

“The city’s objective is to reach agreements that are fair to our employees and affordable for our residents and businesses,” Minnan-Wong said.

CUPE 416 represents the city’s 5,000 outside workers, including snowplow operators, paramedics, garbage collectors, and park staff.

The union has been without a contract since Dec. 31 but the city says that negotiations have actually been ongoing for the last three months with the two sides already having reached agreement on “a number of items.”

In December, however, the union posted an update to members on its website suggesting that negotiations were far from harmonious.

The update said that the city had proposed “concessions” and “two-tier contract provisions” which would “adversely impact and create division among the membership.”

“From our perspective this doesn’t really change much,” CUPE Local 416 President Eddie Mariconda said in a statement issued on Thursday. “Our goal remains the same, we are seeking a contract that protects the services that residents of Toronto use, and respects the hard work that our members do to provide these services. After some very productive negotiations, we are looking forward to working with the conciliation officer to achieve that contract.”

The union representing the city’s inside workers, CUPE 79, has also been without a contract since Dec. 31. Separate negotiations with the leadership of that union are ongoing.