TORONTO - Toronto - known for its cleanliness - may be in for a stinky start to summer as thousands of municipal workers went on strike Monday morning after contract talks failed.

The two unions representing about 24,000 indoor and outdoor workers together announced just after midnight they were at a deadlock with the city and had no choice but to walk off the job.

The impasse means residents will be scrambling to get care for their children as scores of daycares, recreation centres and summer camps are shuttered.

Mark Ferguson, president of CUPE Local 416, said while the city had tabled a proposal as late as 9:30 p.m., the bargaining team felt those offerings were "garbage."

"It was an attack, a vicious attack on our membership," he told reporters.

"Unfortunately, our bargaining committee has had to take a decision to take a strike to ensure that the collection agreement that has been negotiated over decades remains intact."

A forecasted heatwave this week combined with the halt of garbage and recycling collection will make the situation more foul.

And as tourism season gets swinging losses may quickly mount as golf courses shut, the island ferry stops running and other services, such as permits for wedding photos, are out of commission.

Calling the situation "unfortunate," Ann Dembinski, president of CUPE Local 79, said the city had simply left its workers with "no choice."

"This strike should not have happened," she said.

"It is clear, however, that we can not achieve a fair collective agreement without resorting to a strike."

Mayor David Miller in a statement said he was disappointed the city was unable to reach an agreement with the two union locals.

"I am asking residents and businesses to be as patient as possible while a resolution to the strike is pursued. The cooperation of everyone will be needed," he said.

Issues of contention include job security, seniority and scheduling, along with proposed changes to employees' sick plan that would scrap their ability to bank days and cash them out at retirement.

Miller named the city's financial circumstances, the recession, an increasing demand for city services and its limited revenues as prominent principles behind the tabled proposals.

"The city is facing enormous budget challenges in 2009, 2010 and beyond," he said. "The cost of providing services must be in balance with the revenues the city has available to pay the bills."

Police, fire and TTC services remain unaffected by the strike.

Three-year contracts for the two unions expired Dec. 31.

Ferguson said while workers were set to begin picketing, the unions would remain around the table overnight.

Some 24,000 city workers caused a major disruption when they last went on strike for two weeks in the summer of 2002.

Mounds of rotting garbage quickly piled up throughout the city's neighbourhoods and parks.

The strike only ended after Ontario's three political parties unanimously passed back-to-work legislation during an special one-day sitting.

Anyone with questions about the contingency plan should call 416-338-0338/TTY 416-338-0889.

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