By Gerard Di Trolio
Contract talks between the City of Toronto and 28,000 of its employees are going down to the wire. As of 12:01 a.m. on February 19, CUPE Local 416 representing outside workers at the City of Toronto will be in a legal strike position. CUPE Local 79 representing inside workers will be in a strike position at 12:01 a.m. on February 20.
While both locals are prepared to keep negotiating beyond the deadlines, negotiations remain deadlocked around several key issues.
“First and foremost, the main issue is stability,” says CUPE Local 79 President Tim Maguire. “For temporary workers it means the city should be posting more of its full time jobs. There 2500 to 3000 vacancies at the city. The city should be posting them. For part-time workers, we’re looking for more stability in how members are scheduled. Not only is important to have a minimum level of hours, so people aren’t waiting by the phone to find out when their next shift is, but an increase of stability and predictability with schedules.”
According to CUPE Local 416 President Matt Alloway, cuts to benefits and sick time are also top issues at the bargaining table.
With the strike deadlines only days away, both Local 79 and 416 proposed a framework to solve the impasse on Wednesday.
“It’s based on five key points,” says Alloway. “Job security, protecting job postings and placement procedures. Benefits, we want to ensure a healthy workforce. The third point is gender equity in the workplace. We’re looking for a modest wage increase that isn’t outside the norm to what the city has agreed to in other contracts including councillors themselves. And no concessions.”
While the framework is seeking no concessions, the locals have removed many of their demands from the bargaining table.
“We had a wishlist. The city also identified they had a wishlist. But with ours, we’ve re-prioritized that. We’ve pulled dozens of those issues we’ve previously tabled off of the table,” says Alloway. “We’re serious about getting a collective agreement. We want to avoid a service disruption. We’re hoping that this will allow the city to take us seriously so they will comeback to the table and we can meet half way.”
The city had told CUPE that their original proposed demands would cost over $9 million, however that projection was not confirmed.
For their part, the city has been asking for benefits concessions including the use of only generic drugs where available, a prescription to access physiotherapy coverage, and higher payments for dental and life insurance coverage.
CUPE has signalled they want to work with the city to find efficiencies without sacrifices to benefits or pay.
“We put forward a plan, instead of deep cuts [to benefits] that would take hundreds of thousands of dollars from our members’ pockets to pay for a benefit plan that the city has sometimes misadministered, to finding solutions looking at cost savings and efficiencies together. Pooling the number of people in the plan, etc.,” says Maguire.
These negotiations take place in the shadow of the city’s annual budget negotiations which concluded on Wednesday. For the first time ever, the policing budget has exceeded $1 billion while many other departments received either small increases or were told to reduce costs.
CUPE has been paying close attention to these budget negotiations. Maguire notes that the city is not spending enough on human services, “You can’t build a city using only bricks and mortar or transit. You need to invest in social infrastructure. There are a lot of people, including the city manager who says the city needs to look at revenue tools [taxes and fees]. The city has yet to tackle this issue.”
The last time CUPE Locals 79 and 416 went on the picket lines was in 2009 in a strike that lasted 36 days.