TORONTO — About 24,000 unionized city workers walked off the job Monday morning, setting the stage for garbage pile-ups, closed daycare centres, cancelled summer programs and even the postponement of weddings.
Despite six months of negotiations and last-ditch efforts ahead of the 12:01 a.m. Monday deadline, the city and the two CUPE unions — which represent indoor and outdoor workers — left the bargaining table Sunday night without a satisfactory collective agreement.
The walkout does not affect fire, police, ambulance, TTC, water or sewage services.
Mayor David Miller expressed his disappointment that talks with the union had broken down. “City negotiators worked very hard to put the kind of proposals forward that would have resulted in a fair agreement. It is regrettable that those were not accepted by locals 416 and 79,” he said in a statement.
The mayor also asked for patience from Toronto residents.
“While we will continue to negotiate with the union locals during a strike, I want residents and businesses to know that we are working in their interests to protect the future of services in our city,” the mayor’s statement said.
A union president said the city approached outdoor workers with a proposal, but that offer was “complete garbage” and amounted to a “vicious attack” on workers.
“We ask that city negotiators get serious,” said Mark Ferguson, president of the union representing roughly 6,200 outdoor workers. “We never wanted to go on strike.”
Ferguson said the union would be prepared to bargain into the week, adding that he hoped the strike would be short-lived.
The strike means 57 city daycare centres will be closed, leaving roughly 2,000 children and their parents out of luck.
Most residential garbage and recycling collection is on hold, city camps and classes have been cancelled and wedding facilities have been shut down, though ceremonies will continue as usual at Toronto City Hall.
A union spokeswoman said that a resolution hangs on certain deal-breakers such as seniority rights, wages and sick-pay — the last of which is among the most contentious and allows workers to cash in on unused sick-days upon retirement.
City workers get 18 sick days a year and cashing them in would cost the city an estimated hundreds of millions in payouts.
A 2002 strike by city workers saw streets littered with trash stewing under the hot summer sun. The week’s forecast calls for warm and sunny weather.
In a bid to keep the trash off the streets, the city’s website asks that residents “properly package and store their garbage for the first week of the strike,” asking families to keep garbage in their homes or drop it off at a short list of locations.
The strike comes amid talk of a possible LCBO strike set to begin early Wednesday.