Bakers Journal

CRFA urges immediate resolution to T.O. strike

June 23, 2009
By Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association

June 23, 2009, TORONTO – The head of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Assocation (CRFA) has written an open letter to union and city government officials in Toronto calling for an immediate resolution to the municipal workers' strike that has crippled garbage-collection services.

The letter, dated June 22, 2009, reads:

To Mayor David Miller, CUPE Ontario President Sid Ryan, and all Toronto city councillors:


On behalf of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association and the over 8,100 independent and chain restaurants, bars and caterers in the city of Toronto – and indeed, on behalf of all residents of the city – I write to you to strongly urge an immediate resolution to the city workers’ strike.

We are concerned not only about what this city workers’ strike will mean for our members, but for citizens of Toronto as a whole, and for the thousands of visitors we welcome to the city each day. What kind of image will we present to tourists visiting Toronto if they are faced with garbage piling up on city streets, rampant rodent infestations, and the like? If you think this is alarmist, take a ride down the 401 to Windsor, where the [effects] – in the form of garbage-strewn city parks, angry citizens and escalating violence between threatening union members and local business owners – are obvious.

As the 10-week-old garbage strike in Windsor illustrates, the suspension of garbage collection has serious implications for restaurant operators and the thousands of customers they serve each day. Foodservice operators are obligated under the province's Health Protection and Promotion Act to ensure their customers are served in a clean environment. Restaurateurs take this responsibility seriously, and will continue do everything in their power to ensure their waste is removed safely and efficiently, as they do each and every day.

But what happens if, as has happened in Windsor, the city and its workers fail to come to a quick agreement? After more than two months of stalled negotiations, news reports are showing that restaurateurs attempting to remove garbage from their properties at their own cost are often prevented from doing so by picketing workers. Windsor’s medical officer of health has stated that this is, in effect, forcing responsible business owners to break the law, putting the public’s health at risk. Are the city and its unionized workers willing to compromise the health of Torontonians in a similar manner?

On a dollars-and-cents level, most foodservice operators in the city already pay for private garbage collection services, in addition to paying property taxes that partially fund public waste collection. While it may seem that these business owners will be unaffected by a garbage strike, the truth is that no restaurant operates in isolation. Every restaurant, bar and catering business is part of the community in which it operates, and whether next door or across the street, garbage piling up will inevitably attract pests, which will compromise food safety universally. The only option open to operators is to pay for more garbage collection – whether it’s proactively helping out their neighbours or removing illegally dumped garbage from their premises.

What kind of message does it send to hard-working taxpayers when the safety and cleanliness of the city is being held hostage over the matter of sick day allotments? As a recent Toronto Star editorial noted, this stand-off over benefits implies that “simply coming into work warrants a bonus. At a time when so many workers in the private sector are losing their jobs or agreeing to major concessions to keep them, that is hard to accept.” It is especially hard to accept when, from rising property taxes to five-cent fees on plastic bags, Toronto residents are already being nickel-and-dimed all the way to the poorhouse.

Windsor’s example should be taken seriously by the city of Toronto and its unions. Windsor is home to 750 foodservice operations compared to Toronto’s 8,100. That’s 10 times the number of restaurants, 10 times the waste requiring collection, 10 times the inconvenience for citizens and tourists, and 10 times the potential for conflict should the strike be allowed to drag on.

As is so often the case, Toronto restaurants are once again “the meat in the sandwich” as negotiations take place between the city and city workers. There is little that restaurateurs can do to impact negotiations, yet they will be among the business groups most negatively affected. The outlook for restaurateurs in Ontario is already grim: of all provinces, Ontario is expected to see the largest decline in foodservice sales in 2009, and with the second-lowest profit margin in the country at 2.5 per cent, any additional costs or losses in sales spell disaster for this struggling sector.

Consequently, city restaurateurs are not in position to pay – through property taxes or additional fees – for a settlement that will further push the city into financial peril.

No one understands better than a foodservice operator the challenge of offering excellent service on a tight budget. We ask that the city and city workers consider the grave economic and health impacts of this proposed strike and immediately find a fair solution that reflects these troubled economic times.

Torontonians are counting on you to get the job done.


Garth Whyte
President and CEO, Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association

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