City officials say they are optimistic that the labour dispute with striking city workers can be resolved this week, but union leaders seem considerably cooler about that prospect.

"Monetarily, we are miles apart. We are certainly miles apart with respects to the concessions the employer is seeking," Mark Ferguson, president of CUPE Local 416, which represents 6,200 outside workers, told reporters on Monday afternoon.

"Unfortunately the city wants more than a pound of flesh," he added.

The unions say they feel the city is trying to be tougher with them than with other municipal unions, reported CTV Toronto's Austin Delaney.  The city wants to end the practice of city workers being able to bank any unused sick days and cashing them in at retirement.

For example, the city didn't go after the sick days of about 1,000 Toronto Housing workers a few months ago.

"Ask the mayor where he was when he okayed that deal, because he's involved in everything," said Ann Dembinski, head of CUPE Local 79, which represents about 18,000 inside workers.

She described her union as being "still a world apart" from the city.

The other main points of contention include job security, seniority and scheduling.

Mayor David Miller said the world has changed since the recession began last October.

"The financial position we're in is similar to everybody else," he said. "The worldwide recession has affected the city. It's lowered our tax revenues, it's increased our welfare costs and we're bargaining in that context."

Dumping tensions

At the Bermondsey transfer station in Don Mills, John Musselman said confusion reigned.

"At first people were banned from bringing in their garbage, then they were allowed to walk it in, then they were not allowed to do that," then the union relented about 5 p.m., he said.

Brian Bates was one resident blocked from going in. "I pay my taxes. We have a mayor that's giving these people wonderful benefits that we can't afford. We never could afford them," he said.

Other citizens were also decidedly unsympathetic to the 40 strikers on site.

At Commissioner Street, some left bags of garbage along a fence line outside the transfer point. A bylaw officer could be seen cutting into the bags, looking for evidence that would link the trash to an individual household.

The city still asked residents to not engage in illegal dumping in the meantime.

"The city is aware that a few picket lines have refused to allow people and vehicles to cross," city manager Joe Pennachetti told a news conference in Toronto on Monday.

"While a certain amount of inconvenience is to be expected, picketers cannot completely stop people and their vehicles from coming and going. The city will resolve the issue as quickly as possible."

If the strike continues, more drop-off centres will be opened to add to the seven existing ones, he said.

"We understand that people may be frustrated by the inconvenience of waiting to offload their waste, but there will be zero tolerance for illegal dumping."

People will be investigated and fined, with the penalty being $380, Pennachetti said.

Musselman said the strikers told him they put up a "hard line" on Monday, but it should be easier for people to access transfer stations on Tuesday.

Strike kickoff

Toronto's municipal workers went on strike at midnight leaving the city without garbage pick-up, summer camp, swimming pools and daycare.

About 24,000 indoor and outdoor workers walked off the job as the two unions representing the employees announced that they were unable to reach a deal with the city.

Besides garbage collection, the strike will impact:

  • child-care centres
  • libraries located inside community centres
  • golf courses
  • the island ferry
  • recreation centres
  • wedding services
  • city-run sexual health and dental clinics
  • restaurant inspections
  • city-run events in public squares and public parks

Public transit, police officers, fire services and paramedics are not affected by the strike.

Court services including parking ticket payments are still available to the public.

City officials have outlined their contingency plan on Toronto's official website

The last time Toronto suffered through a municipal strike was in 2002.

Garbage collection and other municipal services were halted for two weeks and did not resume until the provincial governments passed back-to-work legislation ordering workers back on the job.

With reports from CTV Toronto's Austin Delaney and John Musselman and files from The Canadian Press