Toronto strike or lockout could start Feb. 5

There is now a 17-day deadline for the City of Toronto to reach an agreement with CUPE Local 416, which represents about 6,000 outside workers who collect garbage, plow snow and do other road and park maintenance.
A strike by municipal workers in 2009 left the city with no garbage collection for more than a month. (Canadian Press)

The Ontario Ministry of Labour has issued what is called a 'no board' report, setting the stage for a possible strike or lockout of municipal workers in Toronto.

The report means there is now a 17-day deadline for Canada's largest city to reach an agreement with one of its unions — CUPE Local 416, which represents about 6,000 key outside workers who collect garbage, remove snow and do other road and park maintenance.

The 17-day deadline will put pressure on both sides to come to an agreement before a strike or lockout, which could start as early as Feb. 5. Both sides have said repeatedly they'd prefer to reach an agreement.

"It's not our intent to have a lockout or a strike," said Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, who heads the city's labour relations committee. "We want to have meaningful discussions take place right now because we know this is the best time of year to get a proper settlement."

Both sides talked Thursday at a downtown hotel and plan to continue meeting as Feb. 5 nears.

Union president Mark Ferguson said the city was open to discussions Thursday for the first time.

"The city was actually willing and open and engaging in the discussions that they had with us," he said. "If this tone continues through the bargaining process, that is a very good thing."

City wants to control timing

Holyday said the city wants to control the timing: It would prefer a work stoppage now because a buildup of untended garbage in the summer favours the unions, he said.

City manager Joe Pennachetti said in a news release that the city has contingency plans in place to address key city services if there is a disruption.

"It's important to note, however, we are still at the table with Local 416 and we are working hard to reach a negotiated settlement. Ultimately, we want an agreement that will allow us to improve City services for residents and businesses.  We are willing to conduct meaningful negotiations 24/7 to reach an agreement."

Emergency, transit and library services would all continue during a work stoppage, but city managers would still have to fill in for thousands of workers.

Snow clearing would be hit, but about 75 per cent is contracted out.

There would be garbage drop-off locations and transfer stations, but curbside pick-up will stop everywhere except Etobicoke, where garbage collection is contracted out.

Negotiating through media

Most recently the two sides have pleaded their cases in the media.

In the past week CUPE 416 has offered to sign a three-year deal that includes a wage freeze for the duration of the contract.

On Monday, the city said it was willing to offer a four-year contract with modified language concerning job security, as well as a lump sum payment.

Both sides rejected each other's offer.

The 'no board' decision does not affect negotiations between the city and the other main union — CUPE 79, which represents close to 23,000 inside workers.