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TTC hopes new offer will avert transit strike

Workers prepared to walk off the job Monday morning if demands are not met

By JEFF GRAY

Thursday, April 7, 2005 Page A12

Facing a new deadline from its union — now poised for a possible strike on Monday — the Toronto Transit Commission says it will sweeten the pot today at the bargaining table. But it was unclear if it would be enough to avoid a strike.

The TTC’s union said yesterday that unless it received an “acceptable” offer from management by tomorrow at noon, its 8,400 workers would walk off the job first thing Monday.

TTC chairman Howard Moscoe said in an interview that he expects to personally deliver management’s offer some time today. He said it would improve on the 2-per-cent annual wage hikes previously put forward that were overwhelmingly rejected by the union.

“It’ll have to be more than 2 per cent,” Mr. Moscoe said. “I’m prepared to tell them at the bargaining table. I’m not prepared to tell you.”

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But he cautioned that the cash-strapped city cannot afford to give in to every union demand. “We do have a few limitations. The city had to sell its hydro poles to meet the budget this year. They’re aware of our limitations.”

The city is also involved in labour talks with its other unionized workers, who might see a generous package for the TTC as a green light to push for similar increases, threatening the city’s books.

Mr. Moscoe said he remained optimistic that the city’s streetcars, buses and subways would keep running on Monday: “I don’t detect the ingredients for a strike.”

Bob Kinnear, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, told a press conference yesterday that progress at the bargaining table has been too slow.

“They have been dragging their heels on issues that they absolutely know are key to a settlement,” Mr. Kinnear said. “Their strategy of delay, defer and ignore no longer serves any useful purpose.”

Yesterday morning, he told the TTC it had 49 hours — or until tomorrow at noon — to present the union with a new offer.

“If no offer is forthcoming, or if an offer made by that time does not adequately address our important issues, we will be on strike as of the first shift this coming Monday, April 11,” Mr. Kinnear warned.

TTC chief general manager Rick Ducharme said yesterday that progress had been made in the talks, citing a deal with the union made over the weekend on how the TTC should discipline drivers who run their buses off schedule.

The union had pointed to the issue as a major rift.

But Mr. Ducharme acknowledged that distance remained between the two sides on two key issues: wage hikes and the TTC pension plan, which the union says is “bleeding” and needs bigger contributions from management.

Yesterday, TTC management was waiting for a counterproposal from the union on the wage and pension issues before making a second offer.

Last month, the union rejected management’s initial offer of 2-per-cent wage increases over five years, a deal Mayor David Miller yesterday called a “very fair proposal.”

Mr. Miller — who spoke to Mr. Kinnear by phone yesterday morning — said the city cannot offer new money to the TTC to finance a deal.

“I think there’s good will at the table,” the mayor said. “… I think it’s no secret that the city is in a difficult financial position, and because of the actions of the previous provincial government the TTC is in a particularly difficult financial position.”

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, asked by reporters what his government would do in the event of a TTC strike, said he was concerned about its effects on ridership.

“Every time we have a public transit strike, we tend to experience a decrease in ridership,” the Premier said. “It becomes a real challenge to get those people back. It’s my hope that all those involved will keep talking and find a way to resolve it.”

If the union decides to take management’s offer to its members, workers would stay on the job until the vote, which would likely happen on Wednesday, Mr. Kinnear said.

With a report from Karen Howlett




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