Toronto union cancels ratification vote, stalling back-to-work process
The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, July 29, 2009 8:47PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 18, 2012 11:27PM EDT
TORONTO - A stop to Toronto's six-week civic strike came into view earlier this week, but the process stalled Wednesday, preventing the immediate resumption of garbage pickup, daycare and summer camps.
Revving up the city's engine came to an abrupt halt when one of the two ratification votes set to begin Wednesday morning was effectively cancelled.
Instead of proceeding forward with plans for 6,000 outside workers to cast their ballots, union leadership directed members of CUPE Local 416 to stay home until the road map to getting back on track was decided.
Back-to-work protocol, specifically around the clean-up of overflowing temporary dumpsites located in city parks, was the major roadblock to getting things going again, said Mayor David Miller during an afternoon news conference.
"I want to be clear about this. It is the unions who are on strike who have kept their employees out," Miller said. "It is not the city who has been preventing them from coming back to work nor has the city ever said that we don't want people back to work."
While members of CUPE Local 79 -- some 18,000 inside workers -- proceeded with their vote, their leadership expressed solidarity with the other union and said work wouldn't resume until both votes had occurred.
That marked a change from a day earlier, when its president had initially demanded workers return immediately upon voting.
Mark Ferguson, president of Local 416 representing 6,000 outside workers, would only say in a statement Wednesday morning that despite reaching "the basis of a deal" on Monday, there are "still final pieces to put into place."
Union officials could not be reached during the day while bargaining continued.
Without knowing when outside workers would vote, Miller vowed city council's vote would happen as soon as the process moved forward. He said the earliest that could occur would be Friday morning.
Workers could then potentially go back to work, though Monday's municipal holiday meant for many it wouldn't be until at least Tuesday.
However, the mayor said at least some workers would have to be up and running sooner. The Ministry of the Environment requires temporary dumpsites to begin to be cleaned within 24 hours of the settlements being ratified.
Those voting on the tentative agreement at the downtown Sheraton Centre throughout Wednesday expressed delight, believing they'd soon be getting back to work.
"Relief! Those six weeks on the picket line -- forget about not getting our wages, that's a big thing -- but to just have the opportunity to go back, that's all we wanted for a long time," said Carlene Perkins, who works in the city's finance department.
"I am impressed with what our president got us and everything is good for now. As long as we got what we were fighting for, it was all worth it."
Major Singh, who works in the building department, called the deal "satisfactory."
"But it should have been done much earlier," he said. "We wanted to go back to work anyway, but, basically, the city should have done better than what they have done. It's too bad for the city of Toronto and the city needs to face all this."
But spreading word of yet further delay was met with annoyance.
"Why next Tuesday when a deal happened Monday and we're ratifying it today? Why does the city need until Friday and why are we waiting until Tuesday?" asked Randy Wallace, who works for the building department.
The tentative deal gives the workers wage increases totalling just under six per cent over three years and a compromise was worked out on sick days -- one of the key sticking points nearing the end of negotiations.
The previous plan, in which employees were permitted 18 sick days per year but could bank them if unused, is being phased out.
New hires won't have that option at all, while existing employees can either accumulate the days and cash out at retirement or accept a partial payment and move to a new plan.
The two CUPE locals represent a total of 30,000 workers, but about 6,000 were deemed essential and did not walk off the job.