Ontario Legislature to be Recalled

The Ontario government says the legislature will be recalled Sunday afternoon for an emergency session to help end Toronto's transit strike.

It was not immediately clear if back-to-work legislation could pass before Monday morning given the need for opposition co-operation.

Commuters awoke to a transit system at a standstill after workers rejected a contract offer and suddenly went on strike.

"There's no streetcars, no subway, no buses," Brad Ross, a Toronto Transit Commission spokesman, told CTV Newsnet on Saturday morning.

The 8,900 members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 -- which represents maintenance workers, mechanics and operators -- walked off the job at midnight, leaving people stranded.

"We were of course were quite surprised by this," Ross said.

Previously, the union had committed to giving 48 hours notice.

"Wonderful," security guard Sean Patenaude said late Friday night when learning of the walkout. "It's going to screw up a heck of a lot of people trying to get to and from their jobs, it's going to cause a lot of economic hardship and a lot of personal hardship," he said.

"It's unforgivable really, you can't hold the entire transit population of the city hostage on a whim and that's what it's starting to feel like."

Union president Bob Kinnear cited the safety of his members, saying it trumped the public's right to advance notice.

"We have assessed the situation and decided that we will not expose our members to the dangers of assaults from angry and irrational members of the public," he said.

Kinnear had warned people a week ago that a strike was imminent, but then the union reached a deal with the City of Toronto around suppertime last Sunday.

TTC chairman Adam Giambrone was disappointed by the unexpected labour disruption taken by transit employees.

"The contract itself is a fair contract," he told CTV Newsnet on Saturday. "It offered fare wage increases, benefit increases, a commitment to deal with the pension issues the union had, and it's going to be very difficult because there is no more money to put on the table"

Giambrone suggested infighting within the union led to the contract's rejection.

"On behalf of the TTC, we want to apologize to our riders, apologize to Toronto," Giambrone said.

"This took us by surprise on Friday night. We'll do the best to work with the premier and work with the city to make this situation as painless as possible, recognizing the incredible inconvenience that people have, especially since the union refused to honour its 48-hour commitment."

Commuters stranded

The walkout left hundreds of thousands of commuters stranded on Saturday, forcing them to make last-minute plans to get to work and get around the city.

There are a number of large events taking place, including a Toronto Raptors playoff game, a Toronto FC soccer game and the Green Living Show at Exhibition Place. The two sold-out sports events alone bring about 40,000 people into the downtown core.

A spokesperson for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Raptors and TFC, estimated up to 50 per cent of their fans normally take the TTC to games.

With the expected increase in traffic, Toronto police were asking motorists to remain patient during the strike.

Taxi companies, meanwhile, were experiencing a backlog of calls as business increased because of the labour dispute.

Contract details

In a press release early Saturday, the TTC outlined the highlights of the negotiated settlement that was rejected.

"Nowhere in the agreement did the TTC request any concessions from the union," said the press release.

  • Term: three years, expiring March 31, 2011
  • Wages: April 1, 2008 -- 3 per cent; April 1, 2009 -- 3 per cent; April 1, 2010 -- 3 per cent
  • Vision Care: $300 every two years; plus $50 for exams
  • Dental Care: major restorative, including implants up to $2,500
  • Orthodontic: up to $4,000 (50 per cent TTC coverage)
  • Physio & Chiro: $1,000 max ($35 per visit)
  • Long-term Disability: $2,550 max, per month

The TTC ratified the deal Wednesday and the union's leadership recommended ratification, but 65 per cent of the union's membership who attended the ratification meeting voted against the deal late Friday. Without a new offer by midnight, the union said it would go on strike.

The tentative agreement needed a 50 per cent vote plus one to be ratified. Officials from the TTC and union expected the deal to be accepted, but as the week went on, grumblings from 3,000 maintenance staff and 1,000 mechanics grew louder.

The workers expressed concern about job security and worried some work would be contracted out. They were also upset that the GTA clause, which guarantees TTC drivers will be the highest paid in the region, doesn't extend to them.

Toronto Mayor David Miller called the strike action "unacceptable" and "unnecessary."

"When you negotiate with an executive, you expect them to be able to sell the agreement to their membership," Miller told CTV Newsnet on Saturday afternoon.

"It's very difficult to negotiate and be at the table if the negotiations don't mean anything, and that's certainly what happened here.

"From my perspective, we made a very fair offer to the union, the union executive accepted it. The offer is consistent with recent industrial settlements both in the private sector and the public sector."

Miller asked Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to introduce back-to-work legislation.

"I informed the mayor that we will be proceeding with back-to-work legislation at the first available opportunity," McGuinty said in a release early Saturday.

Conservative Leader John Tory said his party would co-operate fully in passing back-to-work legislation.

"The decision taken by the Amalgamated Transit Union to go on strike without notice is outrageous," Tory said. "It jeopardizes public safety and is irresponsible at best."

The Ministry of Labour has called the two sides back to the bargaining table this afternoon at 1 p.m.

The union said it will be meeting Saturday to decide on its next steps.

The TTC said there will be limited service for people who must get to critical medical appointments through its WheelTrans service.

Ross said people should bike, walk or share a ride if they can.

"But it's tough to give people advice when you have 1.5 million people every day who rely on the TTC to get where they're going. It's more than an inconvenience -- that word doesn't quite describe it."

Miller said commuters should be "very concerned" about their Monday morning commute, and said the city's contingency plan will be in effect on Monday if the strike hasn't been resolved.

Meanwhile, Giambrone said it was too early to consider declaring the TTC an essential service.

"It's certainly something that I'll be reflecting on," he said. "I try to make decisions with considered thought and I don't want to make a decision in the heat of the moment. We've got a lot of issues to deal with right now."

Next week, city council is expected to debate whether transit constitutes an essential service in Toronto and workers therefore should be denied the right to strike.

By CTV.ca and The Canadian Press

 

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