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More than 22,000 municipal workers in Toronto, members of CUPE 79 and CUPE 416, are out on the streets to defend their jobs and public services.

Determined to fight off concession demands related to job security, 15,000 “inside” workers walked off the job at midnight July 3 joining 6,800 “outside” workers who set up picket lines June 26.

The sweltering heat has added to the disruption as services are suspended, summer activities are cancelled and garbage piles up on city streets.

Management has tried to portray the strike as a battle over wages and “jobs for life.” But both locals have been clear the key issue in this round of bargaining is job security.

This was a strike we didn’t want,” says CUPE 416 president Brian Cochrane. “But the intransigence of this employer has put us in the position of having to fight for our jobs. The city has refused to address our concerns about job security, the contracting out of public services, about basic, fundamental issues such as layoff and recall, and the role of seniority.”

We have made every effort to negotiate collective agreements with the city,” says CUPE 79 president Ann Dembinski. “It has become clear that the politicians in charge of these negotiations don’t want to negotiate. They want to see us on strike.”

The city says we want jobs for life,” says Dembinski. “City workers do not have jobs for life. There is no such thing. What we have had is an agreement that permanent employees with 10 years or more service cannot be laid off because of contracting out. Now, the city wants to get rid of that language because it wants to privatize city services and contract out our work.”

City Hall is determined to sell our jobs to the lowest possible bidder,” says Cochrane. “We know what that means for the public services we all rely on – accountability, standards, and access will all plummet.”

National President Judy Darcy, who has been working to support a settlement, called on the city to negotiate a deal that respects its workers and protects Toronto’s quality of life. “This dispute is about the future of our youth, the future of our city and the future of public services,” says Darcy. “On the eve of World Youth Day, what signal are we sending to the youth of this city and the world if young people don’t have access to decent, secure jobs.”

Three thousand of CUPE 79’s 18,000 members are “essential” workers who do not have the right to strike – workers in homes for the aged and ambulance dispatchers. In CUPE 416, three quarters of the paramedics are required to remain on duty.

Meanwhile, a tentative agreement was reached July 4 between library workers, represented by CUPE 416, and the Toronto Public Library Board avoiding a strike that would have shut down libraries across the city.

We’re very please we were able to reach a settlement for library workers,” says CUPE 416 president Brian Cochrane. “This is living proof that negotiations can be concluded successfully if both parties are determined to make a deal.”