Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan:
In a press conference at 8:30 this morning, CUPE 416 president Mark Ferguson announced that negotiators has reached a tentative deal with the City of Toronto. CUPE 416, which represents approximately 6,000 outside workers, had been in the midst of what everyone described as an incredibly contentious bargaining process—a view Ferguson reinforced today when he called the course of discussions with the City “one of the toughest labour negotiations in Canadian history.” No details of the deal were released this morning but Ferguson called the agreement thus far a “working framework” and added that the union had made “numerous concessions” in order to get to an agreement.
Geez. I sure predicted wrong on this one. I was almost 100% sure that the city’s move to unilaterally impose terms would push Toronto toward a work stoppage. I was very surprised — the good kind of surprised — to hear that a deal had been reached yesterday morning.
The union came into these negotiations in a tough position. The 2009 strike was devastating for them in a bunch of ways. It damaged their relationship with a labour-friendly mayor, sparked questions-of-confidence amongst their membership, turned most of the public against them and contributed to the landslide electoral victory of a mayor who publicly refers to workers as “garbage.” As far as dumb decisions go, walking off the job for 40 days over a sick bank issue has to be a Hall of Fame contender.
And so the stage has always been set for this to be a negotiation where the union would have to make concessions. As Adam Vaughan told the Toronto Star’s Linda Diebel, “CUPE is remarkably, profoundly aware of the (public relations) problem they face over the 2009 strike.” And to CUPE President Mark Ferguson’s credit, the union were conciliatory from the outset, offering both a pay freeze and some latitude on the “jobs for life” thing. This willingness to make concessions contrasted with a negotiating strategy from the city that was designed to make the union look like uncompromising bullies — and it was that contrast that make a negotiated settlement look so unlikely heading into this weekend.
Any real analysis of who “won” this particular labour battle is premature until we know more about the deal that was reached, but, in the public eye, this outcome will undoubtedly stand as a victory for the mayor. Rob Ford does deserve credit for being open to a compromise solution, and sparing the city yet another work stoppage. I underestimated him on this one.
Also, selfishly: can I say how glad I am that I won’t have to write about labour issues for the next few months? Feel like I dodged a bullet.