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Toronto library workers reach tentative deal

Toronto Library's Beaches branch. Toronto's chief librarian has proposed service cuts to meet demands for a budget reduction.

DEBORAH BAIC/THE GLOBE AND MAIL/DEBORAH BAIC/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

As Toronto's 23,000 inside workers voted on a final offer Wednesday, Toronto Public Library employees reached a tentative deal to end their week and a half-old strike.

Library staff will vote on the deal Thursday from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Westin Prince Hotel in North York. Their union, CUPE Local 4948, said details of the proposed contract would be kept secret until it is ratified.

The library system's 2,300 staff have been on strike since March 18.

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The city's inside workers, meanwhile, finished voting at three different locations around the city at 8 p.m. Ballots were brought to a downtown hotel and union leaders hunkered down to await the results. If the contract is voted down, they said, it will be up to the city to make the next move.

"Tomorrow morning, residents will have all the same services in place," said CUPE spokesman Cimm Nunn. "It is our hope that [if the contract is rejected] the city would see this as a sign…and negotiate."

While CUPE's leadership did not give its membership a specific recommendation on whether or not to vote for the contract, they have made it clear that they are not pleased with the offer.

"You can't characterize this as a good deal," Mr. Nunn said. "But a lot of people will see it as the best deal they can get."

Earlier in the day, union president Tim Maguire accused the Ford administration of threatening to simply impose the contract or "worse" as early as Thursday.

"This city has now indicated that if these contracts are not ratified tonight, tomorrow morning they will impose contracts, impose these terms or impose worse," Tim Maguire told a news conference Wednesday afternoon. "That means [there is]the potential of this city, this administration, denying our members basic and fundamental employment rights."

But Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, the mayor's point man on the labour file, swiftly denied that, saying city negotiators have not settled on a next move if any of CUPE Local 79's four bargaining units rejects the offer.

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"Nothing is pre-determined," Mr. Holyday said. "They [union leaders]said they'd be neutral. I guess it's questionable whether they have been ... I think they've tried to play both sides of the street."

The union announced early Monday morning that they would put the city's final offer to a vote without recommendation, leaving members to judge the merits of a four-year contract that grants them a six-per-cent wage increase and strips job security from those with fewer than 15 years experience.

As the deputy mayor and Mr. Maguire traded barbs, union members streamed into three voting locations across the city.

Voting closes at 8 p.m. Results are expected late Wednesday or early Thursday morning.

If more than 50 per cent of each bargaining unit endorses the offer, there will no longer be the threat of a strike or lockout shutting down vital city services such as daycares, community centres, swimming pools and municipal offices.

It's not clear what would happen next if one or more of the bargaining units say no to the deal.

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After a morning spent speaking to his members, Mr. Maguire said they were "disheartened" at the city's hardball tactics. "[This]is a very historic and negative moment in the history of Toronto," he added.

Mr. Holyday, on the other hand, predicted the union's mostly white-collar workers would endorse the proposed collective agreement.

He accused Local 79's leadership of playing politics in a bid to escape the backlash the greeted Mark Ferguson, the president of the outside workers' union, after he accepted concessions in February.

Disgruntled paramedics complained Mr. Ferguson betrayed them, prompting the Local 416 leader to announce he was quitting and storm out of a meeting.

He released a statement March 1 saying he was taking time with his family to consider his professional future. He hasn't responded to interview requests since.

If the inside workers ratify the deal, they'll leave Toronto's library workers alone on the picket line, where they are going to creative lengths to garner attention for their cause.

On Wednesday the striking librarians held a "knit-in" at Nathan Phillips Square. Needles clacking together, they sat in a circle on the concrete, surrounded by cheeky signs: "Stop fleecing library workers" and "Ford: Don't pull the wool over your eyes."

Library workers walked off the job March 18, shuttering 98 libraries. Talks continue in the dispute, but Councillor Paul Ainslie, chair of the library board, said management has no intention of budging on the key job-security issues.

"If I was in their shoes, I would have taken [the offer]before they went out on strike. I don't understand what the union's doing," he said.

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Health reporter

Kelly Grant is a health reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

Washington correspondent

Adrian Morrow covers U.S. politics from Washington, D.C. Previously he was The Globe's Ontario politics reporter. He's covered news, crime and sports for The Globe since 2010. He won the National Newspaper Award for politics reporting in 2016. More

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