Union strike could cause stinky summer in the city
Published Thursday, June 4, 2009 6:39PM EDT
This summer in Toronto may be remembered for the stench of garbage in the air as the city remains unsuccessful in negotiating a collective agreement with its outside and inside workers.
The unions, responsible for services such as garbage collection, have asked the city to inform the labour minister about the failure in negotiations. The Ministry of Labour could then issue a "no-board" report, which would give unions a right to strike within 17 days of that report's release.
Ann Dembinski, who represents inside workers, said her union is looking for a similar deal that has been reached with other unions in the city.
"Others have received fair collective agreements without any concessions and most without ever having to take a strike vote," she said at a news conference on Thursday. "We just want to be treated like everyone else."
The city said the current stormy economic climate has been a factor in the negotiations.
"Given the City's financial circumstances, operating budget pressures and the ongoing economic recession, it is important that collective agreements reflect the financial ability of the City and be affordable to Torontonians," the city said in its Thursday news release.
However, the head of the outside workers union said money is not the issue but details surrounding job security and work hours are.
"It doesn't include money. It includes an attack on our rights as workers and it is a signal that the city wants to return to the bitter climate that led to the 2002 strike," said Mark Ferguson at the news conference. "We don't want to return to that past."
The last time the city suffered through a garbage strike was in 2002. The strike action lasted almost three weeks and ended only when Ontario stepped in to legislate an end to it.
The garbage strike forced the city to cancel several events during the height of Toronto's tourist season.
"I remember that smell," said one home owner when asked about the 2002 strike, adding that the smell would folow you "wherever you went, even at the park because there was garbage there."
Pools, daycares, ferries were among some of the services that were also affected during the 2002 job action.
The city is negotiating the current contract with two unions: Local 416, which represents 6,200 outside workers, and Local 79 which represents more than 11,600 full-time inside workers and 12,750 part-time inside workers.
The groups began talks in January but in May, members of both unions voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action.
"Our intent is to negotiate but it takes two people to negotiate," Ferguson said.
Dembinski said the union won't budge on concessions.
"We've told them time and time again that we won't be negotiating concessions," Dembinski said.
The city issued a news release on Thursday assuring Torontonians that in an event of a strike, critical services will continue. However, the city did not indicate what those critical services would be.
The union negotiations do not include TTC, Toronto police or the Toronto Community Housing Corporation. Those contract agreements are negotiated through another union.
Essential Emergency Medical Services, such as ambulances, must operate despite of a strike.
With a report from CTV Toronto's Michelle Dube