TORONTO – Temperatures rose Monday and so did tempers after municipal employees formed picket lines across Toronto, shutting down daycares and sealing up garbage cans, and leaving union representatives predicting a long, stinky summertime strike.
“I’m not the least bit optimistic at this time,” said Mark Ferguson, president of Toronto Civic Employees Union Local 416 CUPE, representing the 24,000 city workers who walked off the job at midnight.
“We’ve been negotiating for six months now. Unfortunately the city wants more than a pound of flesh.”
As city officials wrapped up garbage receptacles in plastic and attached out-of-service signs to the metal bins, employees stood outside city hall picketing.
Ferguson said the union and city were “miles apart” on negotiations. City officials declined to comment Monday on the talks.
The services affected include garbage pickup, city-run daycares, recreation centres, ferry service and summer camps, but essential services, such as police and firefighters, are still operating.
Along with issues of job security, scheduling and seniority rights, employees want to keep 18 sick days a year, which can be banked and cashed out at retirement.
But the city wants to create short-term disability programs instead.
Toronto is now offering a contingency plan to the 500,000 homeowners affected by the garbage strike.
Another 20,000 local businesses that use the city’s “yellow bag” disposal service will also be affected.
At a news conference Monday, city manager Joe Pennachetti pleaded with residents to be patient, asking them to store garbage or drive it to assigned drop-off locations.
Pedestrians will have to pocket their trash because recycling and garbage bins will be closed.
A zero-tolerance policy is also in effect for those trying to dump illegally.
The last time city workers went on strike was in 2002.
For two weeks, mounds of rotting garbage littered city streets in the midst of a muggy summer.
Mariko Takeuchi, 27, wasn’t in the city for the first strike, but she remembers the horror stories from friends and family.
“I understand it was disgusting with the heat, with the smell, the fact that you couldn’t dispose of your garbage – you couldn’t walk the street without it affecting you,” Takeuchi said.
“I think from a convenience and air quality standpoint, that’s my biggest concern now.”
Others said they were worried about the fate of the summer tourist season if the strike stretches beyond a few days.
Engel Garcia, 39, said he can stockpile bags of garbage in his backyard for a week or two, but with summer festivals and parades, he worries tourists will see Toronto as a dirty destination.
Garcia had little sympathy for the striking workers, saying tough economic times have touched almost everyone in the country, not just city workers.
“With the whole economy going down, everyone’s asking for more money,” he said. “Everyone’s feeling it, so it’s not just city workers feeling it.”
While garbage had yet to pile up by curbsides Monday afternoon, city residents were quick to feel the immediate impact of the strike.
Families wanting to use the ferry service to soak up the sun at the Toronto Islands were turned away.
“Oh my God, now what do I do?” Mark Phillips said in disbelief as he was turned away from the ferry.
“I’m on vacation now. This is what I like to do, get down here on vacation to relax.”
Igor Khortov said he was “shocked” to hear the service was cancelled, having promised his son a belated Father’s Day celebration on the beach.