Toronto's two biggest municipal union locals are asking their members to support a strike should ongoing contract negotiations with the city go sour.

In a letter to members, the leadership of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 79 says support is needed "for a strike mandate that includes a whole range of actions to push back the city's concessions."

The letter adds that the city is proposing contracts that will leave members "threatened with more cuts, all to help pay for the city's financial mismanagement."

CUPE Local 79 members will decide whether to give leadership a strike mandate on Saturday while CUPE Local 416 members will vote next Tuesday and Wednesday.

Contracts with CUPE Local 416, which represents 6,000 of the city's outside workers, and CUPE Local 79, representing 20,000 inside workers, both expired on Dec. 31.

The issues for the union, according to CUPE 79, are the following:

  • Deeper cuts to sick pay and benefits ­— compared to other city employee groups.
  • Even less stability in shifts and hours of work.
  • More members stuck in part-time jobs with little chance to move to full-time.
  • More full-time jobs turned into part-time jobs, with fewer benefits.

The city has refused to publicly discuss the negotiations and has already sought an outside conciliator to help move along its negotiations with CUPE 416. 

Union leadership is now asking its members for permission to carry the weight of a potential strike to the bargaining table.

"There is a concern that they may try an aggressive approach so we are very eager to sit down and talk to members and ensure they are engaged in the process," said CUPE's Katrina Miller.

However, seeking a strike mandate doesn't mean a strike is imminent. A formal impasse that would set the clock ticking on a possible work stoppage is still weeks away.

"A strike mandate being sought by unions is a standard part of the collective bargaining process," said Mayor John Tory.

Strike is 'last resort'

Tory recognizes this round of negotiations will be difficult. The first term mayor is wrestling with a number of initiatives that continue to put great pressure on the city's capital and operating budgets.

"We have some realities we have to face here at the city hall with respect to finances." Tory said. "Those are the things that come up at the bargaining table."

At the same time, both sides say they want a deal and nobody wants to be associated with a possible lockout or strike.

"It's always our last resort," said Miller. "Right now, we don't see that in our future. What [we] see is our goal of bargaining a fair deal," she added.

"This mayor as well will be impacted if there is a strike, there is no doubt about that," said Coun. Janet Davis, a member of the city's employee and labour relations committee. "So I'm sure Mayor Tory will be looking to negotiate and reach settlements with our unions."