June 21, 2009

Toronto city workers strike possible

A strike by 22,000 Toronto municipal workers appeared imminent Sunday as a union leader said contract talks with city negotiators had been fruitless.

A walkout, the first since a bitter, six-week strike in 2002, could start as early as midnight Sunday if the two sides can't find common ground, the Toronto Sun reported.

A strike by members of Locals 70 and 416 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees would affect city garbage collection, ferry schedules, daycare centers and events on public property. Emergency services would continue as usual, the newspaper said.

Hopefully there will be significant progress, but at this point, I'm not very hopeful, said Hugh Ferguson, president of Local 416, before the resumption of talks. Otherwise we'll be on strike. The deadline is firm.

The employees, who so far have rejected concessions sought by the city, have been working without a contract since Dec. 31. A key obstacle to a settlement is the city's demand that newer hires be allowed to replace senior employees, who would be ineligible to apply for new jobs. Money, sick leave, seniority and sick days are other major issues.

We're making some progress but we're still far apart, Ferguson said.

Senior city spokesman Kevin Sack said the unions were forcing a strike.

We expect to reach an agreement ... that's our main focus, he said Saturday. The city believes a strike is unnecessary. The union does not have to strike.