TORONTO – Many of Toronto’s striking civic workers were expressing delight to be heading back to work as they voted on a tentative ratification deal Wednesday, yet an undercurrent of frustration remained about the labour dispute that still hasn’t quite come to a close.
While thousands of voting inside workers stretched in a seemingly endless queue through the downtown Sheraton Centre, another ratification vote by outside workers was indefinitely put on hold.
Mark Ferguson, the leader of the outside workers, released a statement early Wednesday saying that despite reaching “the basis of a deal” on Monday, there are “still final pieces to put into place.”
The unusual delay means some 6,000 outside workers are in stalemate, while their counterparts head towards a potentially quicker resolution.
It’s still anyone’s guess when mounds of garbage will be removed from temporary dumps, city streets cleaned and community centres and day cares re-opened.
“Relief! Those six weeks on the picket line – forget about not getting our wages, that’s a big thing – but to just have the opportunity to go back, that’s all we wanted for a long time,” said Carlene Perkins, who works in the city’s finance department.
“I am impressed with what our president got us and everything is good for now. As long as we got what we were fighting for, it was all worth it.”
Ferguson said he hoped to resolve the outstanding issues in a meeting with the city Wednesday, but failed to elaborate on the specific snags. No union officials were immediately available to comment on the delay.
“There was a problem with the protocol with the city,” CUPE member Michel Audet told CITY-TV outside the Ontario Federation of Labour earlier in the day, where the vote was scheduled to take place.
“Until everything has settled, the vote has been postponed until further notice by the executive of the union.”
Reports indicate details yet to be ironed out include protocol for going back to work, whether outside contractors should be allowed to help dispose of piles of garbage that went uncollected for more than a month and whether disciplinary action will be pursued regarding strikers involved in incidents during the walkout.
If the vote proceeds and a deal is eventually approved, city council is expected to vote on Friday.
But even if the deal is ratified by the two CUPE locals, it’s unclear when they would be able to return to their jobs.
Mayor David Miller said late Tuesday workers can return once they ratify the deals after earlier saying council would need to approve them first. He was expected to comment on the delay mid-afternoon.
Some union members were annoyed that after six weeks they still might not be back at work until next Tuesday, owing to a municipal holiday on Monday.
“Why next Tuesday when a deal happened Monday and we’re ratifying it today? Why does the city need until Friday and why are we waiting until Tuesday?” asked Randy Wallace, who works for the building department.
The tentative deal gives the workers wage increases totalling six per cent over three years and a compromise was reportedly worked out on sick days.
“It is satisfactory, but it should have been done much earlier,” said Major Singh, who works in the building and inspection department. “We wanted to go back to work anyway, but, basically, the city should have done better than what they have done. It’s too bad for the city of Toronto and the city needs to face all this.”
Sources say the city is giving workers an option to take immediate partial payment of accumulated sick days, or keep what is now in their bank and cash out at retirement.
The two CUPE locals represent a total of 30,000 workers, but about 6,000 were deemed essential and did not walk off the job.