John Tory, union leader hoping for deal as strike option looms in Toronto

Mayor John Tory says he wants a deal with thousands of city workers, and he wants it today. But union leaders say they're willing to wait to get an agreement that doesn't cut workers' benefits.

CUPE Local 79 president Tim Maguire plays down strike threat, saying union wants a negotiated deal

John Tory said he's hopeful the city can reach a deal with thousands of its employees today and one union leader said while these are difficult negotiations a deal could be within reach. (CBC)

Mayor John Tory says he wants a deal with thousands of city workers, and he wants it today. But union leaders say they're willing to wait to get an agreement that doesn't cut workers' benefits.

Tory, speaking at city hall, said the city's negotiating team has put a reasonable offer on the table. The offer comes less than 48 hours until some 25,000 city workers represented by CUPE Locals 416 and 79 could go on strike — an option Local 79's leader downplayed on Thursday.

"We're willing to go beyond those deadlines to find a collaborative deal," Local 79 president Tim Maguire told reporters. 

"I think a deal could be within reach," Maguire said, but added the union and city are engaged in "tough negotiations" and said the city needs to change what's on the table if it wants an agreement today.

"We're still talking" said Local 416 President Matt Alloway.

Alloway said members are concerned about the negotiations, but refused to speculate on the potential of a strike. He stressed that like Local 79, his bargaining team is also willing to work beyond the deadline to reach a deal.

"Our goal is just getting a collective agreement," he said. 

Neither the union leaders nor Tory would disclose details of the negotiations, but both focused on the issue of worker benefits. Local 79 wants those benefits protected, with Maguire warning that coming after benefits won't help growing inequality in the city.

Tory, meanwhile, said benefits have been climbing dramatically in recent years. "We must do something to contain those costs," he said.

The mayor said the employees deserve a fair deal, but the deal also has to be fair to taxpayers. The city would, for example, agree to a "reasonable" wage adjustment, Tory said, but that would require changes to benefit plans.

"The city will not and cannot give in to demands for more money without adjusting the benefits plan," Tory said.

Union locals in strike position this weekend

While Maguire played down the possibility of his workers striking, both locals will be in a legal strike position over the next couple of days.

As of 12:01 a.m. Friday, Local 416 workers will be in a legal strike position, with Local 79 workers also having the option to strike 24 hours later.

In the event of a labour disruption, there will be significant impacts to services and programs, the city said last week in a news release. 

"I don't believe there is any reason for a labour disruption," Tory said. 

The union staged a 36-day strike in the summer of 2009, which saw garbage pile up across the city while summer camps and swimming pools had to close.

Mayor talks money

At his news conference, Tory also discussed the $10.1 billion 2016 city budget, which passed late Wednesday night.

The police budget, which topped $1 billion for the first time in Toronto's history, remained untouched despite the efforts of some councillors. Tory's 1.3 per cent property tax increase also remained intact.

The property tax increase, along with an additional 0.6 per cent to fund the Scarborough subway, translates into homeowners paying an extra $72.26 a year on an average detached Toronto home worth $549,586..

"I think yesterday was a great day," Tory said.

"That is not to say the hard work is over."

Tory said the city is now firmly committed to reforming how policing is done in the city to cut costs. Council will also begin discussing how to generate more revenue for the city in the coming year, he said. 

"Addressing our city's financial issues won't be easy, but it must be done."


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