How Essential is the TTC?

In the past week, the TTC board and City Council have voted to ask the Ontario government to make the TTC an “essential service”.  During the debate, this action was opposed by both the TTC’s management and union on the grounds that this will only complicate labour negotiations.  Issues will go to arbitration that might otherwise be bargained between the parties, and costs will increase through the typically higher wage settlements granted to workers who do not have the right to strike.

Those who favoured essential service status argued that this is, de facto, the way things work anyhow.  When a transit strike occurs, it takes a few days, but the machinery of back-to-work legislation doesn’t take long to restore service.  Why, then, endure the upheaval of a short work stoppage if legislated arbitration will be the result?

This is an attractive argument, except when one looks at the context.  Toronto Council and the Mayor’s office has changed from the most pro-labour group any union could expect to see to an administration that makes little secret of its will to reduce the influence and effect of organized labour in Toronto.  Got a problem with garbage workers?  Privatize the service.  Got a problem with transit workers?  Make them “essential”.

Such actions may satisfy the urge to show the unions who is boss at City Hall, but they may not be the best policy for the city.

There is no question that the civic workers’ strike of 2009 was a turning point in Toronto politics.  Not only was it a lengthy strike, but one which saw contentious relations between union members and the very people — the voters — those members needed to gain political support for their position.  They failed miserably.  Much was written about who “won” the strike, and the union managed to convince everyone that they came out on top even though they conceded on the key issue of future sick benefit payouts.  The problem, at the end, was that voters endured a strike that seemed to have solved little (although the outgoing administration and city finance officials will tell you differently), and the voters were fed up.

Stir into this the wide perception that TTC workers are at odds with the people they serve.  The “sleeping collector” front page [RIP] was not the Toronto Sun’s finest moment, but the photo and the anti-union sentiment it provoked cut right across the city.  Relations between TTC staff and riders took on an “us vs them” feel that has reduced somewhat, but they remain less than ideal.  Some operators, a few, really are jerks.  Stories of buses held hostage while an operator claims harassment by a passenger still crop up.

Service on the street isn’t what it might be.  We can always use more buses and streetcars, but there are enough cases of operators fouling up service that this minority can easily be blamed for many service problems.

All that said, making the TTC an “essential service” won’t improve manners among the rotten apples, and won’t make the Queen car or the Dufferin bus run on time.  That takes an organizational will to provide service that’s as good as possible rather than always blaming problems on someone or something else.

The TTC and its new Chair, Councillor Karen Stintz, hopes to make Customer Service a top priority in the coming term.  The TTC must regard its customers as vital, its raison-d’être, not as pesky travellers who need to be taught how to behave properly on transit vehicles.  This is a question of attitude, not of labour negotiations.  Indeed, the organizational culture isn’t only on one side of the bargaining table.

Finally, the problem will land back in Council’s lap with the inevitable call for better transit funding, if only to keep up with inflation, system growth and the inevitable wage increases arbitration will bring.  How “essential” will transit be then?

The opportunity for a vindictive attack on transit workers and labour relations was probably the most “essential” part of this whole affair.  The new regime had a chance for chest-beating and a quick win that will probably do little, on balance, to improve transit.

In coming months, we will hear budget debates at the TTC and at Council.  Those who worship the holy grail of tax cuts will give long speeches about efficiency and belt-tightening, about how riders will have to make do with less service and higher fares, about how “the taxpayers” (as if they are not also transit users themselves) cannot be expected to bear a greater burden.

If transit really is essential to the economic health of Toronto, then Council must be prepared to spend and spend generously on this service as an investment in the city’s future.  We will see just how “essential” transit is to our new Council when the bills come due.

37 thoughts on “How Essential is the TTC?

  1. Three streetcar v motor vehicle accidents in three days (at least two of which were the red rockets T-boning the other vehicle). Are the streetcars starting to fight back?

    Steve: The question is whether the other vehicles had the right of way. I have noticed a lot of irresponsible and dangerous driving in the past month (motorists emboldened by Ford’s election?), and without knowing the details of each incident it’s hard to say who is making war on whom.


  2. The TTC union got what it deserved essential service or a forced settlement with no loss of work. This means that the TTC union negotiating team will have to be more serious about hammering out a good agreement for its members instead of waiting till the strike date before they talk about the more important issues.

    Toronto’s other unions have done well with essential service contracts.

    Steve: You assume that good bargaining by the union will be matched on the other side of the table. If there is a political agenda to force labour unrest, and through that to create support for weakening the unions, then management may be powerless to bargain in good faith.


  3. Personally, I became 100% that the TTC should be an essential service after their last strike. The union had promised a 48 hour notice prior to the strike, plus there was a tentative deal in place, and then BAM the union is on strike without warning. Sorry to say, but my sympathy went out the window faster then the strike started.

    As for the “increased cost” issue, the answer is extremely simple – the Government, when passing the essential service legislation, can add guidelines to the arbitration process – or simply change required legislation stating that arbitrators should deal with issues “down the middle” so neither side loses, but neither side wins. No solution is perfect, unfortunately, but this would encourage bargaining in my opinion.

    Many TTC employees are very good, and should be complimented. However, when things go wrong, it makes them all look bad.

    Steve: Yes, that last walkout blew what shreds of good will the ATU might have had to smithereens. As for legislation, Queen’s Park talked about a public sector wage freeze, but seems terrified of actually implementing one. Arbitrators, in the absence of a legislative requirement, have ignored the idea. The Liberals probably fear a repeat of the Rae/Harris debacle when even in strong union ridings, punishing Rae’s NDP government was more important than the effect of electing a hard right Tory. As we have seen in the recent election, voters care most about their own pocketbooks, and this year’s taxes, not the longer view.


  4. Whether we class the TTC as an essential service, I can’t say whether I agree or disagree, yes with the sudden strike we had a couple of years ago it cost me a day’s pay at a time and a half.

    I do have a belief that if employees should be given the right to withdraw labour on but only very serious issues, especially where the safety of the public could be affected. I feel that this move is a preemptive strike by the mayor to quell any strike that will be looming when they are told … no increase in pay … unless the TTC can increase their efficiency, reduce costs … etc … to me that means reducing services.

    It’s another ploy by the mayor to set the union on collision course with the riders … “you want a pay rise … you tell your riders what services we should cut … and how much you want fares to go up”. Over simplistic but that will be the gist. As a rider I will be expected to pay more for less service.

    So I put in my counter proposal albeit stupid … if I’m expected to squeeze in on less service, then I propose that all left lanes on the highways be dug up, if I’m expected to travel on less … then I also expect drivers to have less road space too … will they do that NEVER … they will just add more lanes!!!
    Just slightly off topic , the use that word efficiency….a word that I find very commom in right wing politics, I find it amazing that they want to destroy trasnit plans to favour one of the most inefficient forms of transport in terms of moving people.


  5. I think there’s actually useful potential in this debate for common ground to emerge amongst a relatively divided city council when it comes to visions of public transit in Toronto. Given the almost city-wide dismay and dissatisfaction with the current customer service levels provided by the TTC, it strikes me that the more left-leaning elements of council ought to agree to go along with ‘tough’ measures against poor union practices in exchange for retaining the more vital elements of Transit City that the right-leaning members plan on gutting.

    Given the reality of mandated back to work legislation of which you speak, fighting against declaring the TTC to be an essential service is not a hill upon which progressives ought to die. Improved service levels across the system is a goal that cuts across the political spectrum, and progressives shouldn’t be afraid to get behind it, especially when cooperation on that issue can be used to further their goals in other areas. They need to set certain red-lines over which they will not bend, but be flexible in other areas to avoid simply being marginalized as an ‘obstructive block’. (Whether or not Ford is in fact willing to engage in any kind of quid pro quo over transit issues is of course another matter).


  6. Steve,

    I’ve been thinking of this since this recent announcement but haven’t found an appropriate answer so I’m going to the best source.

    Isn’t there a much larger end-game at play here? I have a feeling, and please correct me if I’m wrong, the Mayor is looking to get rid of unionized workers from the TTC and to effectively “break” the union.

    By declaring the TTC an essential service he is taking away their right to strike under the guise of respect for taxpayers. That’s fine, he’s entitled to do so as the newly-elected Mayor even if many disagree.

    If the new Chair and the TTC board are serious about making customer service a priority by introducing new (for the TTC) technologies as Presto and automated entrances, surely the union will fight this every step of the way thus creating the proper environment for citizens to call for the union’s collective head.

    By asking a private company to come in and provide services the union once provided at a cheaper rate he can claim a huge victory for taxpayers and cement his legacy as being the Mayor who took on the TTC and won.

    I feel like there is more to this story than what is presented on the surface. Am I wrong?


  7. Steve,

    I’ll be the first to wade into this very contentious issue. You echoed my feelings with one paragraph:

    “The opportunity for a vindictive attack on transit workers and labour relations was probably the most “essential” part of this whole affair. The new regime had a chance for chest-beating and a quick win that will probably do little, on balance, to improve transit.”as well as “Such actions may satisfy the urge to show the unions who is boss at City Hall, but they may not be the best policy for the city.”.

    With the vice chair being Peter Milczyn, I can foresee some major issues developing between the Commissioners and the Union. At the July 20, 2007 TTC meeting, then Commissioner Milczyn made a motion to unilaterally impose wage concessions on the TTC’s unionized workers (thus breaching the terms of the CBA) as well as continuing to refuse to pay the worker’s Ontario Health Premium despite the ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada that this was a term of the CBA. Mr. Milczyn had acknowledged that the workers were legally entitled to the money but that it would be “morally wrong” for the workers to take it. He then later said, more forcefully, that TTC workers who took this money were “immoral”. I know that this incident has not been forgotten by many of the rank and file and you can be sure that the Union will raise this at an opportune moment.

    The actions and comments of the new regime will be watched very carefully over the next few months leading up to contract negotiations. I have already started to hear rumblings from some very moderate ATU113 members about job actions if the new board starts to “put the screws” to us. The vast majority of operators that I know come to work every day and do the best job that they can. The “militants” are actually a small minority. However, us moderate (and I count myself as a moderate) members of the local are concerned that the new regime at City Hall are going to step up their attacks on unionized workers and make us scapegoats. Already the attacks are starting in the newspapers (even the Toronto Star!) and I suspect that it will be very soon time for the politicians to jump onto the union-bashing bandwagon.

    As I have explained previously in several other post under other topics, the vast majority of the items contained in the CBA are working-condition related with only a small part covering wages and benefits. At the time of the last negotiations (2008), the initial offer from the TTC was an absolute insult to the workers and was soundly rejected by the membership. When I look at Rob Ford’s history of motions regarding the TTC made at City budget debates since 2004, I fear that this round of negotiations is going to be ugly to say the least. The essential service issue will just further complicate the negotiations.

    The end result, is that no matter what the final settlement is, your statement:

    “Those who worship the holy grail of tax cuts will give long speeches about efficiency and belt-tightening, about how riders will have to make do with less service and higher fares, about how “the taxpayers” (as if they are not also transit users themselves) cannot be expected to bear a greater burden.

    If transit really is essential to the economic health of Toronto, then Council must be prepared to spend and spend generously on this service as an investment in the city’s future. We will see just how “essential” transit is to our new Council when the bills come due.”

    will lead to service cuts, route eliminations, etc. (because we have to keep in mind the Mark Towhey is Rob Ford’s Chief Policy Advisor) and possibly the complete dismemberment of the TTC as we now know it.

    Steve: I think it will be important for ATU to maintain as positive an outlook as possible because taking a hard line, we’re going out today attitude just plays into the hands of those who would sack everyone if they had half a chance. There needs to be clear understanding by the public if the TTC (management or the politicians) make claims about what is on the table and what the effects will be, versus what the real implications are. If there were ever a time for management to bargain in good faith, this is it, but they may not be given the chance.


  8. After reading this twice, your position is still unclear. No beating around the bush now — are you in favor or opposed to essential service legislation?

    Steve: I am opposed, but because the proposed change is taken from a vantage where this is claimed to be “fixing” transit problems without thinking through all of the implications. In particular, we have a regime that clearly favours spending less on municipal services wherever possible, and how this will square with the typically generous settlements afforded essential workers is unclear.

    Much is made of the importance of transit to Toronto’s economy and well-being to justify this move, and I expect these sentiments to evaporate when discussion of the operating subsidy, fare levels and service quality are before the Commission and Council.

    Finally, nobody has addressed the question of “work to rule”. Given the relatively high use of overtime to cover work at the TTC (likely to a greater degree and more critical to peak service than with other “essential” workers), a work to rule can cripple service quality even without a strike. Toronto has been down that path before.

    It can be argued that “essential” status is roughly what we have already, but what legislative or regulatory remedy would exist either to protect the City against generous wage settlements or to force workers to “volunteer” for overtime duties? Queen’s Park talked about a public sector wage freeze, but has not been willing to actually implement one, and of course would be hard pressed to do this only for “essential” workers.

    Conversely, if the term “essential” really is to be reserved for workers whose function is essential to public safety and health, then Council and the TTC must address whatever bargaining issues face them without the crutch of putting the hard work and eventual blame on an arbitrator. Queen’s Park must address this definition carefully because it has applicability to other municipalities and to other sectors.


  9. Most interesting is the fact that such legislation may actually represent a Charter violation. ‘How can that be’ you ask? Law professor David Doorey (of York U) gives an overview here. Essentially, in 2007 the Supreme Court ruled on a case known as ‘BC Health Services’. They didn’t speak directly to the issue of the right to strike, but they suggested that Section 2(d) of The Charter (freedom of association) “should provide at least as much protection as ILO Convention 87” which labels the right to strike a fundamental human right (I believe they label its revocation only appropriate for police/military). His article goes on to state that ‘the labour movement is waiting in the wings for a good test case’. I’d figure that ATU113 would look in this direction, especially since one of their old newsletters speaks to this (page 15) and it’s a serious threat to their strength .

    This should be interesting.


  10. Work to rule is still possible even without essential service legislation, so what’s your point? … that we would see more work to rule? I remember it from 1989, and while it was not pretty, it was nothing compared to the strike of ’91.

    People are going to accuse you (and rightly so) of being a hypocrite. You can’t have it both ways — you can’t blog year after year about how important transit is, and then say it’s not essential when the idea conflicts with your pro-labor roots.

    Steve: What I am saying is that those advocating “essential service” status are ducking the larger question in an attempt to score political points. At the provincial level, there are questions about a legislated wage freeze or a cap on the size of award an arbitrator can grant. None of these questions is even addressed.

    Yes, I remember those strikes and work-to-rule days too and they were no picnic. That still does not answer the basic question of what type of service is “essential” and do transit workers fit in that category? If we privatize public transit, something a few folks advocate, should the private company be compelled to provide service all the time at a fixed cost, to be, in effect an “essential” service? There are too many variables here.

    If the provincial and municipal sectors really are in as bad shape as we are told, then the Ontario government should have brought in wage controls a long time ago, but they didn’t either because they are scared stiff of the result, or because bumbling along dealing with individual situations is easier, or because maybe things are not quite as bad as we are told (I don’t believe that possibility, but it plausible if unlikely). If arbitrators were restricted to granting, say, a 1% increase, then this type of issue would not even be on the table. Management would assume they would have to pay it, and the union would look for other changes that didn’t contribute to the monetary value of the settlement. If that’s what we want in public sector “negotiations”, then we should be quite clear that this is our goal.


  11. Well, now Rob Ford is trying to be mayor of TWO cities with regards to transit as an essential service. Yes, we in Ottawa had a terrible transit strike two years ago — enflamed by a proto-Ford type: former mayor Larry O’Brien (and let that be both a warning and a glimmer of hope for Toronto’s mayoral future).

    “Mayor” Ford: mind. your. own. damn. business!!!!


  12. My issue with the TTC being declared an “essential service” is that we are removing the right to strike from a group of workers, just because of the (huge) inconvenience it would bring.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that only workers who can’t strike now are the police, the armed forces, and prison wardens – all of whom are *essential* to public safety. Transit operators are not essential to public safety. Even EMS workers and firefighters generally have the right to strike, and they save people’s lives every single day. (EMS workers can’t strike during normal collective bargaining, but they can at other times).

    The right to strike should not be removed so lightly.

    [The following was left in a separate comment.]

    OK, I’ve just found out firefighters can’t strike on Ontario… but that goes with my point that it requires a very big reason (saving lives) to justify removing the right to strike.


  13. Steve: “If we privatize public transit, something a few folks advocate, should the private company be compelled to provide service all the time at a fixed cost, to be, in effect an “essential” service?”

    If the private company signed a contract to provide service, presumably it would be “all the time” not “when we have drivers available”. That means if the private company is so bad at managing its employees that they go on strike, then it would either have to magic up some drivers from somewhere, or pay a penalty for breaching the contract.

    (NB: I’m not advocating privatizing transit – I’m just pointing out a consequence of doing so. I’ve never seen what problem privatization would solve.).

    Steve: However, there would be a long period where there would be no service while the private company was in default on its contract, and no legislation could undo that problem. Being able to take someone to court is not always the ideal remedy.


  14. The question of whether or not suspending TTC service for labour disputes endangers public safety has been raised repeatedly over the course of the debate. In 2008, I believe it definitely did endanger public safety. That was totally irresponsible, to put it very mildly. However, what’s significant to note is that such wouldn’t have been the case had the leadership of the union stuck with the 48-hour warning that had been promised (in fact, even waiting until the regularly scheduled end of service 2-3 hours later would have been a significant improvement over what actually happened). When the trust is violated, there are consequences. I support TTC being an essential service until there’s a change of union leadership. Until then, the union simply cannot be trusted with striking powers.

    Steve: That’s rather like saying that we need a separate set of rules for a government whose leaders we don’t trust. You can’t change the rules just because the current union leadership is not to your liking, any more than we could retroactively impose a new voting system in an attempt to unto the results of the last election.


  15. Steve: That’s rather like saying that we need a separate set of rules for a government whose leaders we don’t trust. You can’t change the rules just because the current union leadership is not to your liking, any more than we could retroactively impose a new voting system in an attempt to unto the results of the last election.

    If a plurality of voters don’t trust their government, they get a chance to throw them out when the next election rolls around (I prefer proportional representation, but that wouldn’t have prevented Ford from becoming Mayor anyway if that’s what you’re implying (see Rocco Rossi’s tally, which would have likely gone to Ford and put Ford over the combined total of Smitherman and Pantalone)). The 1.5M regular TTC riders, however, have no say in the union leadership of ATU113, and that’s why comparisons to government doesn’t work. Just because the public doesn’t get to vote on something doesn’t mean that irresponsible leadership should be tolerated, and thankfully it hasn’t.


  16. During the 2008 negotiations, the TTC’s initial offer to ATU113 was extremely insulting and demanded excessive concessions from the Union. It was not, in way, what I would consider “good faith” bargaining.


  17. Steve,

    The TTC SHOULD be essential service.

    Remember that strike some years ago when they promised a warning but 12:01 bye bye, I was downtown and had to rush to a hospital across the city because a family member had a heart attack. Thank God I was coming out of dinner with friends (none of them drove since they were drinking) and they all pooled their money together so I can get a taxi across the City ($120 by the way), the rest walked home since they lived downtown.

    What about my neighbour who couldn’t go to the the pharmacy to get her refills?

    I lost all respect for them. These people are over-paid, they complain about everything, specially when WE riders take photos of them not doing their jobs and breaking the law.

    What about when you take a photo of a driver talking on his cell while driving, when you take their photo, they stop, take the bus out of service because you caught them and have a photo?

    They bitch and bitch when WE do something to them yet when THEY do something, it is ok, Darth Kinnear will come and rescue them, they get a slap on the wrist. Yet when someone does something to them, that someone goes to jail/fined.

    The guy that told my girlfriend (at that time) to “fuck off and get off his fucking bus” because she took a photo of him with his phone on his left shoulder WHILE driving. Oh gee.

    You can filter the two f words all you want by the way.

    Darth Kinnear bitches and acts like the TTC employees are victims and we are the evil ones. I am sorry, after spending two decades with the worst customer service in this side of the milky way…

    Public Transportation is ESSENTIAL to the City of Toronto.

    How would you get to the Spacing party? How would you go to City Hall for the TTC meetings? How would you visit family/friends? You get the picture right?

    If you want to live in a bubble where everyone is nice then go to Nunavut, I am sure you can be a driver for the snowmobile transit commission (STC) in Iqaluit.

    Why are these “operators” taking it out on everybody? It is ok for them to bitch, insult and break provincial law and when they are caught whine like babies with Darth Kinnear.

    Steve, I would love for you to come to my neighbourhood the day of the next TTC meeting and then we can travel to 100 Queen Street West then you can see how it would be impossible for me to go without TTC, or even better yet, instead of the TTC meeting, let’s go to Royal York where my sister lives, let’s see how long that would take to walk. I can’t afford a car just so you know.

    Remember, more cars = more gridlock.


  18. The issue of making the TTC an essential service has come up each time there has been a strike – The disruption is huge and the traffic congestion horrendous. In each case it has been a rude reminder of just how important the TTC is to Toronto, even as the years of underfunding and poor state of repair reduced the level of service. Given the fervour to make it essential, you would think we’d been suffering strikes on a regular basis, yet in the 25+ years I’ve been in Toronto (since August 1985), I can only recall three such strikes, the longest one in 1991 (about 8 days). In each case I was lucky in that I was already a bike commuter and could get to work and shopping without much problem (though in 1991 I was working downtown and it was hell it was often faster and safer to walk the bike and a lot of those who decide to try biking were another huge hazard).

    And yet I’m not wholly convinced the TTC qualifies as an essential service, at least in the same sense as police, fire and ambulance (the latter of which can in a limited way go on strike). Nor am I convinced the rationale of this council to make it essential is motivated by wanting to improve transit. Indeed when our newly elected mayor announced he was killing Transit City, it was with the preface “The war one the car is over”. Clearly this does not sound to me like a pro-transit statement. It may simply be a recognition that transit must exist if for no other reason than there is not (at least now) enough road capacity for all who own cars to use them exclusively for all trips – at least some must opt for transit. I seem to recall some politician (not sure if Federal or Provincial) quipped that Toronto was “too dependent on transit”.

    If transit is indeed an essential service, then I’m expecting to see this council commit to better funding and better service. If it is essential, it should also be more accessible, not just for those with mobility issue, but also for those on low incomes who often have no other means of transportation. It it is essential, it must serve all of the City (something TC would come closer to that extending two subways). So far I’m not convinced this is the case, at least now, which is why asking the Province to declare the TTC essential is so far only a hollow gesture.



  19. It would appear that Rob Ford is already starting to achieve his goal: turn public opinion against the City’s workforce. When the Fordites achieve their goal of fully offloading the TTC to the private sector and the resulting cuts to “unprofitable” and “unsustainable” routes and services happen (and they will), I hope that you look back and remember just how bad the publicly owned and operated TTC actually was.

    My wife depends on the TTC each and every day to get to work from northeast Scarborough to the heart of downtown Toronto. She works shifts and travels at all hours of the day. She frequently has to take 300 series Blue Night service from home first thing in the morning. She wants the TTC to be “essential” (BTW she works in the medical field and is herself “essential”). We have agreed to disagree on this topic as she can see where I am coming from in regards to losing some of my rights in being declared “essential” but she needs dependable TTC service to travel to/from work.

    Bob Kinnear has gone overboard with his comments and reaction to this issue, in my opinion. However, you must keep in mind, that he is playing to two separate primary audiences: the right-leaning councillors who are trying to provoke the Union, and the more militant, radical members of the Union who expect him to do exactly what he is doing! The majority of Union members are more moderate and are quietly reflecting on this whole issue and what it means to them on a day by day basis as we move forward. Most of us do not want to strike or go on work to rule, but if provoked we will present a united front.

    The Union local is NOT Bob Kinnear – it is the total membership. We elected Bob Kinnear as president because of his strengths. Please try to look past the rhetoric and see the actual message and who it is actually directed at. I disagree with a number of things that the Union does, but overall I support what they do for me as an employee of the TTC. One has to work within the TTC to truly understand why we need to have a Union.


  20. The simple fact is that Public Sector unions operate exactly the same as Private Sector unions: the Union membership elects their leaders (both for the local as well as for the national level). ATU 113 elects the local leaders (such as Bob Kinnear) as well as their national leaders (international in the case of the ATU). Just as I may not like the leader of the CAW in Oshawa or their national president, I really have no say because they were democratically elected by their membership. I do, however have a say in the ATU and ATU113 by attending monthly union meetings. Or to put it into a political perspective, you can vote here in Toronto as resident, but you have no say in Vaughn because you are not a resident there (no matter how you feel about their local politicians). So Steve’s argument is valid, because we vote in the elections we are qualified and entitled to vote in.


  21. This is just speculation on my part: perhaps team Ford sought this designation to prevent the TTC from supporting the garbage workers when they move to privatize waste collection.

    Steve: That is farfetched. If TTC workers went out on strike to support the garbage workers, they would be (a) probably violating their own contract and (b) be aligning themselves with the most-hated union group in southern Ontario. ATU workers have no history of going out in support of anyone else.


  22. I think the biggest problem is that people don’t seem to understand what the ‘Essential’ part of ‘Essential Services’ means. Many seem to equate ‘Essential’ to important.

    Yes, it very well may be true that people can’t get to work, students can’t get to school, etc. The thing is… that’s not the definition of ‘Essential’ in regards to labour law (ie only those sectors which have a direct impact on health/well being and only to the minimum extent possible) – the context of any legislation.

    To attempt to label workers that don’t fall under that narrow definition ‘Essential’ is to state that we don’t want them to be able to strike because it’s annoying. Umm… that’s the entire point of the withdrawal of services. If the amount of annoyance a strike is going to cause is going to be our bar for what sectors are allowed to go on strike, then why allow any sector to do so? Screw their right to collectively bargain if it annoys us right?

    You most certainly can argue that ATU113’s leadership made poor choices with regards to the implementation of their 48 hour promise, but that’s their prerogative. That poor choice came with it’s own set of consequences (I can only imagine that it increased the abuse towards their members).

    Ultimately, this whole discussion seems to be leading towards getting everyone more and more antagonized. Many workers view this as an attack on their livelihoods while it seems like Rob Ford’s Administration feels like it needs to prove itself. I don’t see a good end to this.


  23. I get the general sense that many councillors who supported this motion, and the supportive commentators here and elsewhere, see the essential service designation as a way to stick it to the union, and little else. It seems to be a first strike at what will eventually become an effort to either de-certify the union or privatize the system.

    Any effort to point at potential drawbacks to this line of action (i.e. higher costs through arbitration, work-to-rule campaigns, etc.) are brushed aside.

    While I totally agree that the union actions in the last wildcat strike were irresponsible, this might end up being the equivalent of using a nuclear weapon to take out a hornet’s nest. Between the deep-sixing of Transit City, Karen Stintz’s substance-free comments as Chairperson, and this initiative, I’ve yet to see any indication that the new majority on council have a clearly thought-out plan for public transit. So far it is just conservative rhetoric and platitudes with no thought as to costs, improving service, or customer experience.

    Let’s see what happens when Ford’s tax cuts decrease revenue and the added cost of his police officers and cancelled contracts reduce the subsidy available to run services to Ford Country in Etobicoke and Scarborough. Just because they call it an essential service, doesn’t mean it will be essential to run as many buses in Rexdale or Malvern.


  24. Last week I got on a mid-day Kingston Road car. There was a CITY-TV cameraperson and talkingheadperson. After a few mis-tries, talkingheadperson managed to get out:

    “The TTC will be an essential service. Needless to say, the riders on this streetcar are thrilled.”

    I guess I was flabbergasted. If I hadn’t been, I would have yelled out “Are we??” I don’t recall talkingheadperson asking anyone for their opinion (sparse as the ridership on a midday Kingston Road car west of Yonge is), but rather telling us that we’re ‘thrilled’.

    (And this morning, Metro Morning’s local news broadcast described Ford’s victory as ‘overwhelming’, which is a nice distortion of the fact that it actually wasn’t overwhelming. ‘Decisive’, okay, but ‘divisive’ as well. Don’t give the new mayor airs!)


  25. It would appear that Rob Ford is already starting to achieve his goal: turn public opinion against the City’s workforce.

    Rob Ford turned public opinion against the City’s plant waterer, the rest of the City workforce’s reputation in public opinion as it stands today is largely the handiwork of Mark Ferguson and Bob Kinnear.

    Rob Ford cannot create something out of nothing. The unions have only their own leadership and their militant factions to blame for their tanking public relations.

    The Union local is NOT Bob Kinnear – it is the total membership. We elected Bob Kinnear as president because of his strengths. Please try to look past the rhetoric and see the actual message and who it is actually directed at. I disagree with a number of things that the Union does, but overall I support what they do for me as an employee of the TTC. One has to work within the TTC to truly understand why we need to have a Union.

    Bob Kinnear is the elected representative of ATU 113. You elect him to be the public face and voice of ATU 113. It is ridiculous to claim that Bob Kinnear is not ATU 113, because ATU 113 voted him to be their face and voice, and by a huge margin no less.

    When Bob Kinnear speaks, he speaks for all of ATU 113. When Bob Kinnear acts, like striking without warning 2-3 hours before regular service shutdown, ATU 113 follows. Bob Kinnear is the union, that’s how the system works. If you and your colleagues disagree with Bob Kinnear, then try hard to get 5,000 of your colleagues to elect someone else when the next vote rolls around. It can only improve your public image to change your leadership. Bob Kinnear’s “strength” is vilifying the very riders that cough up a super-majority of the union’s income through fares, and that’s a huge problem for ATU 113.


  26. CAW doesn’t affect you: If CAW strikes, they stop producing cars, but you aren’t prevented from driving on the roads if you already have a roadworthy car. As for Vaughan; as a Toronto resident, Vaughan doesn’t affect me. I don’t have to pay Vaughan anything, or lead my life a certain way as per their by-laws, etc. The Province is another story, but I can vote in Ontario elections, because the Province affects me.

    Steve’s argument is not valid as it is apples to oranges. Citizens have control over governments that affect them through elections. ATU 113 has vastly more power than almost any other union through its ability to take the city, even the region, hostage, even though almost nobody in the city (~0.3%) can vote for the leadership of ATU113.

    ATU 113 has more power than CUPE 416, for example. A transit strike is not just an “inconvenience,” as so many people put it. A garbage strike is an inconvenience; a transit strike is a disaster. Unions are supposed to have power over their employers, not over an entire region, especially in the case of a monopoly, which ATU 113 has by default through legislation that prevents any local transportation services in Toronto being delivered by anyone other than the TTC except for taxis, the island ferries, and railway companies.

    If the Canada Post goes on strike, for example, there are other companies one can go to for urgent mailings (they just have fewer locations to mail from and may be moderately more expensive). However, there is no alternative in Toronto, as taxis are not “moderately” more expensive; you can easily pay 10+ times the cost for a single one-way trip in a taxi; Miroslav paid 40 times the cost in his case. That’s hardly an option for most people. Railways and ferries aren’t going to be particularly useful either, in almost all cases.

    The kind of power that holds a region hostage needs to be used very responsibly, and with exceptional communication with the public (it is clear from the 2008 strike, both internally and with the public, that communication is not Bob Kinnear’s strong suit). If it is not responsibly used because of reckless leadership, then that power must be taken away until circumstances improve.

    The power to take a region hostage is not a right.


  27. So Rob Ford is not only calling for the TTC to be deemed essential, but rather that ALL transit in Ontario should be! This should be an easy sell in Timmins, North Bay, Thunder Bay (where there is an ongoing dispute at the moment), Belleville, Kingston, etc. Good luck with that one Dalton. But Rob Ford brings us back to the argument: is transit essential? If YES then it must apply province-wide (but not Ottawa (where the bus routes cross into Quebec) or Windsor (where the bus routes cross into Detroit)!).


  28. Steve is correct in his comments. The local would be in violation of the contract and could be brought before the Labour Relations Board if we were to walk out on an illegal strike in support of another union. As well, Steve is also correct in stating that ATU workers have no history of walking out in support of anyone else.

    That said, however, ATU members would NOT cross a legal picket line established by other unions (as any union would do the same for us). If my comments dredge up issues about the 2006 walkout/lockout, keep in mind that the issues were resolved (in camera) between the TTC, ATU113, and the Labour Relations Board. I don’t know all of the details, but I was effectively locked out because the TTC would NOT issue me a farebox or transfers that day. The TTC violated the terms of the contract by the way that they handled the reassignment of the maintenance workers from day shifts to night shifts (there was not a proper job-bidding process following established seniority rights as defined in the contract that the TTC agreed to).


  29. Just to answer Karl Junkin. You should have seen who was running against Bob Kinnear in the last election: Kevin Morton (who was the catalyst of the rejection of a perfectly reasonable offer and who spread lies and rumour at ratification time) from the Maintenance side as well as a couple of even more radical and (in my opinion) totally destabilizing individuals!!


  30. Steve,

    It is interesting to see how this particular topic is starting to become an “anti ATU 113” discussion as opposed to the actual question: “How Essential is the TTC?”.

    Steve: Yes, I was wondering how long this would take myself and to what degree people would distinguish between specific annoyances such as the walkout without notice, and the general issue of whether essential service designation will achieve what is alleged to be its intent.

    From my point of view, I am obviously biased in my comments (as a bus operator and a member of ATU113). Should we not be examining some other issues to formulate answers to your question? The role of TTC management in labour negotiations. The role of the TTC commissioners in labour negotiations. The role of city council in labour negotiations. ATU113 is only one party in the labour issues. TTC mangement takes its direction from the TTC commissioners and city council when it comes to labour negotiations.

    ATU113 is a complex organization with two distinct groups: transportation and maintenance. Their are many common goals between these two groups, but there are also many issues that have no common ground. To complicate the last CBA, there was an attempted coup-d’etat at ratification time. We, in transportation, suffered a tremendous setback in the name of union solidarity for our maintenance brothers/sisters. The last union election showed our displeasure with this issue: transportation is solidly in control of the union local. I for one will not tolerate actions by maintenance like the 2006 job action! They are not front line, and as a front line employee, I have paid the price for their actions.

    However, the TTC management and the TTC commissioners cannot be let off the hook for their role(s) in labour discontent. Their are many internal issues that constantly pit unionized employees against the management (and, in all fairness, the opposite is true) that the general public is not aware of.

    Your question should actually be amended to: “How Essential is the TTC, and what is the Future of Transit in Toronto?”. I have been reading the comments in the online editions of the mainstream Toronto media (Globe and Mail, National Post, Toronto star, Toronto Sun) and can’t believe what I am seeing written. There are many people who are totally ignorant of “labour law 101”.

    Both the Union and the management/Commission/City Council have to work toward a common goal: provide TRANSIT service (as well as customer service) within the funding model which we find ourselves in. In my opinion, most of the problems and dissatisfaction have their origins in the lack of funding to provide adequate levels of TRANSIT service. The customer service issues come from a lack of morale due to the fact that ALL TTC employees (union and management) cannot control the basic fact that the TTC needs sustainable funding. State of good repair is great, BUT it needs to expand to become state of “customer expectation” repair. TTC management and the Commission (and City Council) need to look forward a determine what the TTC SHOULD BE and stop changing plans after every election!!

    End of rant and I am sorry for the length of this diatribe.


  31. Just had a very interesting email from a friend of mine who lives in Ottawa who commented that Ottawa had Larry O’Brien vs. Andre Cornellier of ATU279 during their last strike and that Toronto is going down the same road with Rob Ford vs. Bob Kinnear.

    He stated that the obvious difference to him is that Rob Ford is worse than Larry O’Brien and that Andre Cornellier was worse than Bob Kinnear!! He also commented that both Larry O’Brien and Andre Cornellier are history BUT that the head of OC Transpo (Alain Mercier) is still in place and he wonders what will become of Gary Webster. As well, OC Transpo is now being run by a transit commission as opposed to being a city department (apparently one of the key items in the municipal election).


  32. Just to follow up on my previous comment about “labour law 101”. Under the “Ontario Labour Relations Act, 1995”, there are numerous provisions covering the right to organize and belong to a union. As well, there is a large section that covers “Successor Rights”. There is also a section that covers the fact that a current CBA remains in effect after its expiration while a new CBA is negotiated (or arbitrated if that is the case). This information is readily available on the Provincial Government’s website.

    As well, the Federal Government has a number of labour laws in place that also should be considered for “labour law 101” (available on their website under “Human Resources and Skills Development Canada”. Just for some background, I worked for a long time in the private sector, in both non-unionized as well as unionized companies (although I was never in an unionized position prior to joining the TTC). I have read numerous comments over the years (in relation to LEGAL TTC and other public sector strikes) about Ronald Regan and the US Air Traffic Controllers: this is not the same circumstance, the ATC’s did NOT have the right to strike, but felt so strongly about the issues that they staged an ILLEGAL strike in defiance to US Federal Law. I would ask that you take the time to familiarize yourself with the relevant Canadian and Ontario laws regarding labour law before you attack unionized workers and their rights accorded under these laws. The Supreme Court of Canada has had several recent notable decisions that uphold the rights of unions and unionized workers.


  33. The solution to improving TTC customer service is simple: make the TTC depend entirely upon fares, advertising, etc., for revenue, and scrap the operating subsidy. This will make the TTC look upon users as a revenue source instead of a cost, and will naturally encourage better customer service to become more profitable.

    There is still room to subsidize capital costs, such as building new subways, but otherwise the city should be earning a profit off transit, much as it does off Hydro.

    Steve: The problem with this model is that it would simply reinforce the TTC’s view that passengers are an expensive nuisance. They would concentrate on the most profitable of them, and ignore the rest. Those of us who have watch “TTC culture” for four decades are less hopeful than you may be that anything can encourage the TTC to change.

    I note that you start off talking about no operating subsidy, and then talk about the city making a profit. If that is the goal, then dumping “uneconomic” services will quickly follow. We could reduce the deficit today, but I wouldn’t want to look at the map of service. Without question, the Spadina extension would never open.


  34. “Some operators, a few, really are jerks. Stories of buses held hostage while an operator claims harassment by a passenger still crop up.”

    What efforts, if any, has TTC “management” or ATU 113 for that matter, taken to rid us of the “TTC’s finest”?

    I have been held hostage by the same driver on 2 occasions, and correspondence to the narcissist we called a transit commissioner and TTC general manager, Mr. Webster went unanswered. Instead, I was called in for an appointment with TTC special constables and was informed that I was under investigation for “stalking” by an accusation of this same said ATU113 member.

    Such actions by an ATU113 member borders on criminal harassment. Yet this ATU113 member, and others like him, rolls on. During the snowy evening of Dec. 20th, this same individual, without colour of right, refused me transportation, causing me to wait 15 minutes for the next vehicle. I didn’t even bother to contact the TTC, as Toronto has recreated the labour non-sense of the pre-Thatcher UK of Miller’s youth. There are more that a “few” rotten apples in the ATU113 barrel.

    Also if pay scales and conditions are as bad as claimed by ATU113 at the TTC, why did that infamous ticket collector regularly commute from a point east of Cobourg for a job that requires less skill than a server at McDonalds?

    Steve: I have to assume that the commissioner to whom you refer is no longer sitting on the Board thanks to the new crop recently installed. I have a real problem with the idea that TTC’s special constable force is calling in a member of the public under the pretext you allege. Part of the recent withdrawal of constable status from the TTC by the Police Services Board turned on, among other things, problems with the TTC constables overstepping their powers, unlike special constables in other agencies. Sadly, there are some people who will abuse their authority, and organizations that will ignore (or worse encourage) what is done in their name.

    Now that we have a right-wing Council, I fear we may see more, not less, of this “us vs them” attitude at the TTC contrary to the basic premise of customer service.


  35. I believe that no government worker should be allowed to strike ever. They have been handed a monopoly, which means they do not have to compete like the rest of us.

    If there were competitive transit systems then any group that had unreasonable demands would drive themselves into bankruptcy.

    In exchange for their privileged position, I believe they have an obligation to fulfill their duties and get the rest of us to work on time.


  36. It is very interesting to read Sue-Ann Levy’s column in today’s Toronto Sun (Sunday January 2, 2011) about “Rob Ford’s Big Fight”. Of course, the big fight will be against SAL’s hated city unions. The last third of her column is about the TTC / ATU113 contract negotiations set to commence in the next few weeks as our current CBA expires on March 31, 2011. Her rhetoric about the ATU113 “mobsters” and “union mob bosses” is, as always, standard SAL.

    She finishes off with the standard right-wing rant: “…do a Ronald Reagan and fire ’em all to break the backs of the unions.” Of course, she neglects to mention the simple fact (and SAL has never been one to let any actual facts distort her rants) that what she is advocating is illegal in Ontario under the Ontario Labour Relations Act as well as under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act. The situation with the US air traffic controllers and Ronald Reagan is not the same as legal contract negotiations with the ATU and other city unions. It would be interesting to see the mayor of Toronto and his hand-picked Employee Relations Committee facing criminal charges under the OLRA for illegal labour practices as advocated by SAL!!

    Whenever I read SAL and her rants against ATU113, I feel proud to be counted as an “ATU Thug” or as she once called us: “TTC blue shirted thugs”.

    Steve: And I believe that Ms. Levy is herself a union member who may just benefit from that status.

    If I were to write stuff like this on my blog, I might have a small following of rabid union haters, but I would not have a reputation for fairness. Indeed, saying that the union is a “mob” has certain implications that I would expect to be sued for, were I to write that sort of thing. ATU113 is, I hope, not stupid enough to make the Sun and SAL a martyr.


  37. Andrew,

    “I get the general sense that many councillors who supported this motion, and the supportive commentators here and elsewhere, see the essential service designation as a way to stick it to the union, and little else. It seems to be a first strike at what will eventually become an effort to either de-certify the union or privatize the system.

    Any effort to point at potential drawbacks to this line of action (i.e. higher costs through arbitration, work-to-rule campaigns, etc.) are brushed aside.”

    Decertification has to be initiated by the Labour Relations Board under very specific circumstances as defined under the Ontario Labour relations Act, 1995 sections 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, and 67. None of these sections would seem to apply in the relationship between the TTC and ATU113. The only other way that the union could be decertified is if the membership decides that they no longer want the union to represent them – a quite unlikely scenario to say the least.


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