02/05/2012 08:46 EST | Updated 04/06/2012 05:12 EDT

Toronto Union Negotiations: CUPE And City Avoid Strike, Reach Tentative Deal

Globe and Mail/CP

TORONTO - An 11th-hour tentative deal between the City of Toronto and the union representing its outside workers has set a hard line for any upcoming contract talks, experts said Sunday.

The deal was announced early Sunday morning following tense talks that stretched long past the midnight deadline originally set by negotiators.

It averted a work stoppage that would have affected some 6,000 garbage collectors, snow plow operators, animal control officers and other outside workers.

The terms of the agreement have yet to be released, but Mark Ferguson, head of CUPE Local 416, said it involved several concessions.

Whatever it contains will have a strong impact on the fate of other unions, including the city's 23,000 inside workers, as they renegotiate their contracts, said Maurice Mazerolle, co-director of Ryerson University's Centre for Labour Management Relations.

"The real target is the other civic unions with this city," he said in an interview Sunday. "The message and tone have been set."

Bryan Evans, a labour expert with the university, said the bargaining tactics deployed by the city's team demonstrated a broader shift in labour relations.

"What this signals generally is that public sector labour relations, negotiating, is going to take on... much more of an aggressive tinge," he said.

The city had earlier threatened to impose the terms of its latest contract offer if there was no deal by 12:01 a.m. Sunday.

But the deadline was extended twice and talks continued into the morning.

The city's offer had included lump-sum pay increases in each year of the four-year offer, and made changes to contentious job security provisions and other items, including scheduling.

The union had offered to take a three-year wage freeze to reach a deal.

"From the start, our responsibilities were clear: to negotiate a deal, and maintain our ability to deliver high-quality community services," said Ferguson.

"I am pleased to report that we are close to reaching our goal."

Mayor Rob Ford said he is "very happy" with the proposed deal, but stopped short of calling it a victory for the city.

"It's a great day, an absolutely fantastic day, for the taxpayers of this great city," he told reporters Sunday morning.

Both sides are expected to continue working together over the next 48 hours to finish the agreement before proposing it for ratification.

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