Unions have been blamed for a worsening standoff with the City of Toronto, which is now a step closer to ending with a disruptive work stoppage in just over a week.
Negotiations between unions representing 28,000 workers and the City of Toronto must end before 12:01am on 19 February to avoid the chance of a stoppage.
However, the City of Toronto has lashed out at unions for changing their demands in recent days, in an approach it says is pushing the city closer to a potential strike.
“It’s not going well at the table”, deputy mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong told The Toronto Star
. “The unions are going backwards, they are asking for enhancements. The chances of a labour disruption are increasing.”
The unions – CUPE Local 79, representing 23,100 inside workers, and Local 416 with 5,400 outside members - have been lambasted for a proposal arguing the city should look at cutting benefits costs, in order to maintain the quantum of benefits.
By pooling various benefits plans of CUPE members and possibly other city workers, the unions have suggested savings could be made on administration costs, while they say ‘preferred providers’ could be used for bulk drug purchases.
The unions also want more schedule predictability for part-time workers and more temporary part-time and full-time workers to gain permanent full-time contracts.
The City of Toronto responded with a statement on its website, saying the proposal amounted to unions making last minute demands and risking negotiation failure.
“The proposals put on the table by the unions include both significant enhancements in benefits and more restrictive wording,” the statement said. “We have a lot of work to get to a deal and the clock is ticking.”
Wednesday’s union proposal followed an earlier offer form the City of Toronto, which unions have derided for being filled with demands for union concessions.
“We are not looking to negotiate concessions but we are willing to work collaboratively with the city to find savings and efficiencies on the issue of benefits,” Local 79 president Tim Maguire told The Star
Maguire agreed there is a growing chance of disruption. “There’s been some movement on some issues, but on the big issues there’s not been much movement and we’re hoping this proposal is a way to move forward,” he said.
CUPE Local 416 will be in a legal strike position on19 February, and CUPE Local 79 day later. Together, they have the potential to cause significant disruption, with members including child care and shelter workers, nurses, cleaners and planners, garbage collectors and staff in departments including water and parks.
The city might also need to brace for further problems, as CUPE members whose contracts expired on 31 December could have terms arbitrarily imposed on them.
Local 416 spokesman Matt Alloway said this could also trigger a strike. “Would you want a group of workers working under terms and conditions they did not agree to?”