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Toronto Garbage Strike is over

July 28, 2009

Outdoor city workers struck a tentative deal with Canada's biggest city after a five-week strike that has raised a big stink with a halt to garbage collection.

"We are happy that we have a resolution," Ann Dembinski, president of a union representing 18,000 Toronto city employees, told public television station CBC.

A few hours earlier, Mark Ferguson, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 416, which represents 6,200 workers in Toronto, had announced that "the basis" of a deal had been reached.

The pact must now be ratified by the 24,000 city workers in a vote expected on Wednesday, as well as by the municipal council, which will hold an extraordinary session on Friday.

The deal is "very good news for Torontonians," said Mayor David Miller during a press conference.

He thanked the city's residents for their "patience and cooperation during very difficult circumstances."

The workers went on strike on June 22 to protest the city's intent to revise a collective contract that expired on December 31.

The dispute centered on a policy allowing workers to accumulate unused sick days and get paid for them when they retire, which the city has said was too expensive.

"It's a fair deal. Compromises were made but at the end of the day, we have a deal that we're proud of," Ferguson told reporters while declining to reveal the terms of the agreement. Dembinski also declined to specify the deal's terms.

During the tourist season, Toronto's garbage bins had started to overflow. With no trash pickup, the city set up temporary dumps in public parks and parking lots where residents could toss their garbage.

Pools were also closed across the city during the strike.

If the deal is ratified, trash collectors could get back to work Thursday, Ferguson said.

Without knowing details of the Toronto deal, some councillors said they were not ready to endorse it yet.

"There is a huge hole to fill [in the city budget] next year and affordability is an ongoing concern," said right-leaning Councillor Karen Stintz, who is rumoured to be considering challenging Mr. Miller for the mayor's office.

"There are still several members of council that do question if the settlement is affordable," she said.

Temporary dump sites will remain open for a few days. City officials refused to name a date for a return to regular pickup of garbage and recycling, but next week is a likely start.

The deal struck early yesterday with the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 416, representing outside workers, and later in the day with Local 79, representing inside workers, is believed to preserve the sick-day bank for current employees, sources said. Under the deal, it is believed existing workers will have several options, including cashing out their accumulated sick-day benefits by a certain date, as city staff switch over to a new short-term disability plan. The city moved non-union employees to a short-term disability plan two years ago.

New union hires will not have the option to bank sick days, the Globe has learned. By ending the current system of banked sick days for new hires, the city achieves the key goal of capping an unfunded liability - $250-million in a worst-case scenario - as older workers cash out unused sick days when they resign or retire.

On wages, the deal is believed to be sweeter than one laid out by the city earlier, which included 1-per-cent raises in 2009 and 2010, 2 per cent in 2011 and 3 per cent in 2012.

The proposed contract is for three years, not four as in an offer released publicly by the city on July 10.

Both sides refused to release details publicly yesterday, but each sought to cast the deal as a victory, with the union saying it didn't give up anything and Mr. Miller saying "the agreement was within the mandate" of the city.

"It will allow us to effectively and efficiently deliver public services into the future," the mayor said.

Specifics of the deal won't be released unless it is ratified by union members tomorrow.

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