Magazine slams Toronto as strike enters Day 26
Published Friday, July 17, 2009 7:27PM EDT
As Toronto's strike enters its 26th day, Mayor David Miller proclaimed himself frustrated with the slow pace of negotiations -- and returned fire at a magazine that directly lampooned him.
Maclean's magazine's latest edition knocks the garbage-strewn metropolis and Miller on the cover.
The magazine features Miller in a garbage can with a banana peel on his head and surrounded by a mound of garbage and two raccoons. The headline reads: "Toronto Stinks."
At a Friday afternoon news conference, Miller said he didn't care what Maclean's says, "(Toronto) remains a remarkable place."
He noted that some are going out and mowing soccer fields so children have some place to play. "That says something much more important about our city than a magazine cover that people will forget about next week," he said.
CUPE Local 79 president Ann Dembinski, who represents about 18,000 inside workers, told CTV Toronto on Friday that she was not shocked by the provocative cover.
"This strike has received world-wide coverage. Toronto is certainly no longer Toronto the Beautiful," said Dembinski.
People behind the "Toronto's had enough" protest had a second rally on Friday. They chanted "You're embarrassing our city!"
Organizer Kathy Gregory said the cover hit the mark. "They're making us stink," she said of both the city and the strikers.
The city's tourism board told CTV Toronto it did not want to discuss the Maclean's cover.
A couple visiting from Tampa, Fla. told CTV Toronto the city is in terrible shape compared to when they visited 25 years ago. Back then, they thought Toronto was the cleanest city they've ever seen.
A visitor from England also told CTV Toronto that he found the garbage to be a shame, as Toronto was otherwise a fantastic city.
Last week, Miller appeared on CNN to urge Americans to continue visiting Toronto. He was responding to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle that made Toronto seem like a worse place to visit than Honduras, Mexico or North Africa.
Illegal dumping continues to be a problem in some areas, particularly in Chinatown, at Spadina and Dundas. There are no easily accessible temporary dumps in the downtown core.
Business owners in the area say they have seen mice -- and some huge rats.
"I've seen more of them because of the trash on the street," local business owner Robert Mamou told CTV Toronto.
However, Dr. David McKeown, the city's medical officer of health, told Friday's news conference that while Toronto has rats like any big city, "some people associate sightings of rats with the strike, and that's not necessarily the case."
The city is not seeing an excess of rat-sighting complaints relative to non-strike periods, he said.
On Thursday, the city opened three more temporary dump sites, closing three others that had reached capacity. Protesters at Campbell park outdoor rink, one of the new dumps, tried to block access.
They pressured people do drop their trash off elsewhere and laid a wreath to symbolize the poisoning of their park.
On Friday, CUPE accused Mayor David Miller of leaving the bargaining table, as well as, announced it plans to picket the ferry that takes approximately 600 residents from Ward's Island to the city and back.
Some social services recipients showed up at city hall to protest delays in receiving benefits.
Miller said the city is trying to process social services requests. "But due to the limited number of workers that we have, and or course the demands for social assistance brought about by the recession, we are unable to process special claims like the special diet," he said.
"While the garbage issue gets headlines, the example of social assistance is a very stark reminder of what I've been saying throughout -- this is a strike against the most vulnerable Torontonians, including social assistance recipients and children ...," Miller said.
Although negotiations are ongoing, "I have to say I am extremely frustrated at the very slow pace of negotiations," he said.
The city made public its offer to the unions last week. Local 79 and Local 416, the outside workers, both rejected the offer.
"The city was not asking for any concessions, changes to seniority or anything of the kind. It made a fair and reasonable proposal to deal with the significant liability of outstanding sick bank days and a fair and reasonable proposal on wages," Miller said.
Union members currently get up to 18 sick days per year. Unused ones can be banked for a cash payout of up to six month's wages upon retirement. The city wants to replace that with a short-term disability plan and a partial payout -- one the unions have declared inadequate.
On wages, the unions have wanted the same treatment as firefighters and police officers, who got three per cent raises. However, provincial LCBO workers recently ratified a deal that gives them a 7.75 per cent wage increase over four years.
Miller said picketers have not always complied with the law.
"Where there is evidence, we will pursue every available remedy, including injunctions, to ensure that Torontonians and city workers have proper and safe access to the work site," he said.
The city has been successful with two injunctions, he said.
Despite the strike's length and slow pace in resolving the dispute, Miller said he wasn't looking to the province to legislate the workers back because it results in arbitrated settlements.
If a three per cent wage hike were granted in arbitration, "it would probably mean we'd be required to cut services and possibly lay off the very people who got the three per cent ...," he said.
Elsewhere in southern Ontario, a three-month old city strike in Windsor shows little signs of ending anytime soon after striking workers voted Thursday to reject the latest contract offer by the city.
It means some 1,800 inside and outside workers will continue to picket, while residents continue to live without services like garbage pick-up, road maintenance or child care.
A special session of Windsor city council was to convene Friday to dealing with the labour dispute. But city officials said they have no plans to move on their position regarding post-retirement benefits, a key issue in the strike.
The two sides met in front of a new mediator appointed by the Ontario Ministry of Labour in early July -- the first talks since the union walked away from the table June 18.
With files from Canadian Press, CTV Toronto's Austin Delaney, and CTV Toronto's Michelle Dube