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TTC riders face chaos

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TORONTO STAR FILE

More than 2,000 people lined up at the Danforth station hoping to get to work on the GO Train as the 1991 TTC strike began. The city�s population has grown since then, so lineups could be worse this time.

Talks break off; strike set for Monday

Commuters scrambling for other rides

KEVIN MCGRAN
TRANSPORTATION REPORTER

Ashley Henriquez is going to walk to school on Monday. Brigitte Ward has arranged a car pool to get to work. Keiko Nota plans to stay home, but will take a cab in an emergency. Alex David is going to ask his neighbours for a ride, if he needs it.

Those four are among an estimated 600,000 commuters who rely on the TTC every day — accounting for 1.35 million paid fares — who are going to have to find other ways to get around if the transit union strikes on Monday.

“They better not go on strike,” said 22-year-old Nadine Smith, waiting for a bus at Finch station for her 25-minute, two-bus ride home to Scarborough. “I don’t have a car and nobody living with me has a car.”

Smith — and the rest of us — have a couple of days to plan how we’ll deal with the impending traffic chaos after the TTC’s 8,400 unionized workers rejected an offer, with talks breaking down yesterday over wages and contracting out.

“We will be withdrawing our services as of Monday morning,” said Bob Kinnear, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113. “We will give the commission the weekend to think about the consequences of their inadequate offer. That is the unanimous decision of our executive board.”


Past TTC Actions


In the past two decades, the transit system has been hit by eight strikes and work-to-rule campaigns.

1999
Strike lasted two days, settled with some issues left to an arbitrator.

1991
Strike lasted eight days, ended with a union vote forced by the NDP government.

1989
Slowdown and work-to-rule lasted 41 days, leading to a dramatic decline in ridership.

1988
Strike by Wheel-Trans drivers and mechanics lasted four days.

1985
Work-to-rule campaign by drivers lasted six days.

1984
A strike slated to start two days before a visit by Pope John Paul II was quashed by the province before it began.

1978
Strike lasted four days, ended by provincial legislation.

1974
Strike lasted 23 days, ended by provincial legislation.

Toronto Star


If a strike hits:

  • WheelTrans service will remain intact for the neediest, such as users who must keep medical appointments.

  • GO Transit, Mississauga Transit and York Region Transit will redeploy bus routes away from TTC stations.

  • The city will enforce strict “no parking” limits on key streets.

  • And hundreds of thousands of us will look to our bikes, our sneakers, our inline skates or our cars to get to work on time.

“It’s going to be pretty chaotic,” said transit expert Richard Soberman, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. “Most of them will be in cars. Some of them won’t be able to get anyplace if they can’t make alternate arrangements. It’ll be a lot messier than the last time (in 1999) because our population has grown since (then).”

With a small — and narrowing — time frame for the two sides to reach a deal, Mayor David Miller said he’s willing to intervene, adding he’d talk to Premier Dalton McGuinty about back-to-work legislation but urged both sides to come to an agreement before then.

“I will speak to the Premier over the weekend if we’re unable to reach a settlement and I will discuss all options with him,” said Miller. “Obviously, back-to-work legislation is one of those options.

“A transit strike in Toronto is in no one’s interest. It’s a very serious step,” Miller said. “Our economy depends on the Toronto Transit Commission and it’s quite clear … that we should be able to work together with our employees to reach a settlement.” The TTC’s “final” offer was a $160 million package that includes wage hikes of 2.75 per cent, 3 per cent and 3.25 per cent in the next three years, as well as hikes to benefits and pensions. The union turned it down.

TTC chairman Howard Moscoe, looking ill and tired, said he’s willing to continue negotiating “around the clock.” The two sides, encamped at the Sheraton Parkway in Richmond Hill, did not meet last night and had no plans to meet today, but at his news conference Kinnear added: “Anything is possible.”

The reasons for the strike seem particularly puzzling since both sides indicated Wednesday that most issues had been settled, and it was a matter of how much money the TTC would make available for pensions, benefits and wages.

At his news conference yesterday, Kinnear said the union wanted a 3 per cent pay raise each year — in line with other transit systems — but that the TTC’s wage offer “falls short.”

Moscoe said he thought the TTC’s offer was “pretty close to what the union wanted,” and a significant improvement from the 2 per cent offered in March.

The union was not available for comment after the TTC released its offer, but there had been this puzzling line from Kinnear at his news conference: “Unfortunately, we now hear word that the TTC has suddenly come up with more funding. That is extremely concerning to us.” He didn’t elaborate why more money for the union was unfortunate and was not available for questions last evening.

He also dropped a bombshell — an issue no one had mentioned up to then — saying the TTC wanted to contract out maintenance jobs.

“TTC management thinks that these highly skilled workers are disposable. They want to throw them away and contract out their work even if it costs the TTC more money,” said Kinnear. “The commission is going to try to spin their wage offer as reasonable. Even if we agreed, which we don’t, what good is a wage increase if you won’t be collecting it next month?”

Moscoe, who watched the news conference on television, said he was confused by the union’s stance. “I don’t understand what the union wants,” he said. “The TTC has no plans to contract anything out. We have not had any plans to contract anything out. There has been no change in the language to contracting out at the TTC.”

Pension contributions and other benefits also are still-simmering issues.

“The package is worth $160 million. There’s no more money,” said Moscoe. “But if the union wants to sit down and rearrange this package, I’m prepared to negotiate with them continuously until Monday morning.”

Kinnear hinted that extra money for the TTC should come from Queen’s Park or Ottawa, not the city.

“We could move Toronto faster and more efficiently if the provincial and federal governments stepped up to the plate and gave public transit the support that it needs and deserves,” Kinnear said. “Toronto’s economy and environment have suffered because of years of TTC underfunding.”

He added: “When it comes to public transit, we are not the problem. And we are tired of taking the flak for government short-sightedness.”

Both sides had largely operated under a news blackout. Few leaks had come from either camp, and truly it was anybody’s guess what was going on behind the scenes. But the TTC’s public presentation of its wage offer could be intended to tell workers just what’s on the table in an effort to get them to pressure their union leadership to accept.

Moscoe’s words — that the TTC is willing to “rearrange” the package — are also telling. The age range of the TTC union members is quite diverse, with a good portion close to retiring. Those workers care more about a beefed-up pension than about wage increases. The younger set may care more about wages.

There were rumours circulating yesterday that the union has not resolved for itself how best to divide the $160 million package. Would the younger demographic win on wages, or the long-timers on pensions?

“It’s possible (there’s a division). On wages they’re pretty close, but on pensions I get the impression they’re pretty far apart,” said labour relations professor Anil Verma at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. “But last-minute tactics is not only about rearranging. The union may think the mayor and the premier would feel enough pressure to sweeten the pot.”

Verma said part of the union’s problem was figuring out who exactly was pulling the strings, since the TTC is run by the city, which is controlled by the province. “It is this uncertainty about who you’re bargaining with that makes public sector strikes complicated and really hard to predict,” said Verma.

The 1999 strike lasted two days and was settled by an arbitrator. A 1991 strike that lasted eight days was ended by back-to-work legislation.

Transit expert Soberman said both sides should take their cues from this history and go straight to arbitration without disrupting service, the public or the economy.

“It always ends up that way anyway, so basically the whole city is held up to ransom because different people want to posture,” said Soberman. “The people doing the negotiations are politicians. Negotiating is not their long suit.”

With files from Morgan Campbell, Emily Chung and Bruce DeMara




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