From garbage collection to public skating: here’s what you need to know about Toronto’s possible work stoppage

Around 5,000 of Toronto’s outside workers could go on strike or be locked out by the city as of midnight tonight.

The contract for city employees represented by CUPE Local 416 expired at the end of 2019, and negotiations on a new agreement have been acrimonious and unsuccessful so far.

Here’s what you need to know about the possible work stoppage, and how you can plan around what could be a major disruption to city services.

Which city workers could go off the job?

CUPE Local 416 represents around 5,000 city employees who primarily work outdoors.

The union includes garbage collectors, parks and recreation staff, Toronto Community Housing staff and paramedics, among others.

Union members who perform what the city deems “essential services” such as paramedics are not allowed to participate in job action.

Will my garbage still be collected?

It depends where you live.

For residents east of Yonge Street, all garbage collection will be suspended during a work stoppage.

Residents in that zone will be able to take their garbage to designated drop off locations, which the city will determine a week after a work stoppage begins.

Residents west of Yonge, where garbage collection is performed by contracted workers, will still have their trash collected, but there will be no recycling or green bin pickup. The city recommends they combine all household waste in the garbage bin.

People west of Yonge may also experience delays in collection, since contracted workers still have to drop off garbage at city-run depots, which would likely be affected by picket lines.

Public trash bins in parks and on sidewalks will also not be collected.

Which other services will be suspended?

Toronto will also close all community and recreation centres during a stoppage, including outdoor ice rinks, arenas, ski hills, pools and fitness centres.

If the stoppage occurs during March break, programming including camps on city property will also be cancelled.

The Greater Toronto Hockey League, which operates local house leagues and various levels of amateur hockey has also warned of a potential “major impact” on the activities.

City council and committee meetings will be suspended, since the city workers who help run those meetings may be reassigned during the stoppage.

Toronto does not expect any impact on snow removal or winter maintenance of sidewalks or bike lanes. Around 90 per cent of that work is performed by contracted workers.

Emergency road, pothole and sidewalk repairs will also continue.

Why can’t they reach an agreement?

The main sticking point at the bargaining table is a job protection clause that expired with the last contract.

The clause protected employees who reached 15 years of service by Dec. 31, 2019 from losing their jobs to privatization.

CUPE Local 416 wants to extend that protection to future employees who reach 15 years service.

Toronto Mayor John Tory has called that a “jobs for life” provision.

“There’s no such thing as jobs for life,” union president Eddie Mariconda has said, adding that his members can still lose their jobs due to performance issues, misconduct, or other reasons.

“This is the city creating rhetoric during bargaining,” he said.

Toronto Mayor John Tory has called the protection clause a ‘jobs for life’ provision, which the union calls a mischaracterization. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

City representatives say they will honour the workers who reached 15 years service at the end of 2019, but that extending the same protection to future employees could make it difficult to save money and operate efficiently.

“We don’t want to be locked in and be inflexible,” said spokesperson Brad Ross.

He added that no members of CUPE Local 416 has lost a job to privatization since the previous contract was ratified in 2016.

How long could a work stoppage last?

It’s not yet clear when the stoppage could begin or for how long it might last.

Both sides say they want to continue bargaining up to the deadline at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

However, the two sides may continue bargaining past the deadline, if they decide to do so.  The midnight deadline only designates the time when a work stoppage becomes possible.

While there are many uncertainties, Tory has said he does not want any stoppage to last much beyond the winter.

“We’re not interested in having a work stoppage that stretches into the summer,” he said.


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