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After 36 days of stench, Toronto's garbage strike is over

A sprawling month-long civic strike in Canada's largest city ended yesterday, with two of Toronto's largest unions holding on to key benefits from the cash-strapped municipality.

The three-year deal preserved benefits for nearly 30,000 current workers - including a hot-button bankable sick-day scheme - and also included modest wage gains, sources told The Globe and Mail.

The deal ends a 36-day strike that brought garbage collection to a halt and shuttered summer camps, libraries and swimming pools. It was the longest labour dispute in the city's history.

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"This strike was a difficult period for Toronto," said the city's left-leaning and usually union-friendly mayor, David Miller. "We now must focus on moving forward."

Throughout the strike, more than 45,000 summer camp and swimming lesson participants had their planned programs cancelled.

Garbage piled up on city streets and in 26 parks and arenas that the city opened as temporary dump sites. Residents wanting to dispose of a bag of garbage sometimes had to wait in lengthy lineups at dump sites blocked by pickets.

The city was seeking concessions from the unions as it tries to balance its books. A high-profile battle was fought over the sick-day provision, which allows workers to bank unused sick days and cash them out at retirement. It is considered lavish by the private sector and many other municipalities.

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.

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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.

"All I will say is this is a deal my membership will be happy with," Local 79 president Ann Dembinski said.

Mr. Miller said the deal was consistent with recent public-sector contracts. Earlier this month, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario and its union agreed to a wage package of 7.75 per cent over four years, the same as for provincial government employees. Last week, Windsor, Ont., and its CUPE locals agreed to 6.3 per cent over four years, with some lump-sum payments, ending a 101-day strike. (Windsor's garbage collection resumed yesterday).

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Once the Toronto unions ratify the deal, the city will hold a council meeting on Friday. Mr. Miller said it had to be held then, and not immediately after tomorrow's union vote, in keeping with procedure, though Councillor Michael Thompson said, "Friday needs to happen Wednesday" to get workers back on the job more quickly.

It's expected some might resume work by the end of the week. The city is hosting its annual Caribana Festival parade this weekend - a huge tourist draw - but the streets are filled with overflowing garbage cans.

The garbage situation was the subject of reports on CNN and in the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as a front-page Maclean's magazine article entitled "Toronto stinks."

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.

With a report from Josh Wingrove

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