CITY HALL BUREAU CHIEF— Globe and Mail Update
Published Sunday, Mar. 25, 2012 10:33PM EDT
Last updated Monday, Mar. 26, 2012 4:00AM EDT
A major labour disruption has been averted for at least two more days after Toronto’s largest civic employees’ union reluctantly agreed to send the Ford administration’s final offer to a ratification vote Wednesday.
The president of CUPE Local 79 announced early Monday that he would put the city’s take-it-or-leave offer before his 23,000 members without recommendation.
The proposed four-year contract would grant workers a 6-per-cent raise and strip job security from those with fewer than 15 years seniority – just like the new collective agreement signed by outside workers last month.
If the inside workers reject a similar deal, Torontonians would again face the threat of a strike or lockout closing daycares, community centres, pools and municipal offices, among other services.
But if workers vote in favour of the proposal, it would be a second major victory on the labour front for Mayor Rob Ford, whose anti-union rhetoric on the campaign trail led to fears that labour unrest would roil Canada’s largest city this year.
Mr. Ford could use the boost. He’s suffered a series of council-floor drubbings, including the pulverizing of his subway ambitions last week.
Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday acted as though victory had already been achieved when he addressed reporters around 12:30 a.m. Monday.
“We have great news for the city of Toronto,” he said, flanked by the city’s director of human resources and chief negotiator. “We are very pleased that we have an agreement with Local 79 and that our final offer will be presented to the membership for ratification. This is the second time we’ve been successful in less than two months in negotiating agreements with CUPE.”
As soon as the city wrapped up its news conference, a CUPE spokeswoman contradicted Mr. Holyday.
“The city is free to think what it wants” Katrina Miller said. “It’s not a deal though. This is not a negotiated settlement between two parties.”
Before the city offered its triumphal interpretation of events, the bleary-eyed CUPE Local 79 bargaining team lined up behind a podium at the Sheraton Centre Hotel to hear their leader, Tim Maguire, sound a more subdued note.
He said that if workers reject the deal Wednesday, the union will toss the ball back in the city’s court, rather than immediately going on strike.
“We would hope that the city would try and find solutions with Local 79 [if members reject the offer],” Mr. Maguire said. “But the city would still have the other options, and as we’ve talked about they’ve threatened changing terms and conditions of employment at the Local 416 table.”
Mayor Ford and Mr. Holyday have made it clear for weeks that they expected the mostly white-collar workers of Local 79 to swallow the same concessions as the labourers of Local 416, who voted 83 per cent in favour of their new collective agreement.
Like the Local 416 contract, the city’s final offer to Local 79 includes no salary increase this year, followed by annual increases of 0.5 per cent, 1.75 per cent and 2.25 per cent in subsequent years.
It also includes a 1.5 per cent lump sum payment.
But job security, not wages, proved to be among the most contentious issues for Local 79.
Under the contract that expired at the end of last year, all permanent, full-time inside workers were protected by the so-called “jobs-for-life” rule.
If privatization or new technology eliminated their jobs, the city had to find them new ones.
CUPE says the outside workers’ deal on job security was more acceptable because 70 per cent of them had been with the city for at least 15 years and will continue to have job security under the new contract.
If a similar deal is reached for inside workers, the union says, only 50 per cent of them would be covered.