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Toronto on the brink of transit strike as negotiations tick down to midnight deadline

Written by on June 6, 2024

TORONTO — Toronto was on the brink of its first major transit strike in 16 years as union leadership vowed it was ready to shut down service while the city’s transit agency said there was still enough goodwill left to get a deal done before a midnight strike deadline.

A strike could bring Canada’s most populous city to a grinding halt. It would upend regular travel plans for tens of thousands of commuters who depend on its subways, streetcars and buses, while choking the city’s already congested roadways.

And unlike some Toronto transit strikes of the past, speedy back-to-work legislation from the province may not be a foregone conclusion. Ontario would not introduce a bill to end the strike unless Toronto requests it since the province is not directly involved in negotiations, a senior government source said, and any bill would likely not be introduced for weeks.

The city’s largest union of transit workers issued a statement that said as of 5 p.m. no progress had been made in its negotiations with the Toronto Transit Commission.

“ATU Local 113 will be moving forward with strike action tomorrow at 12:01 a.m.,” read the union’s statement.

“The TTC has left us no other choice, as we still need to prioritize a new fair agreement for our transit workers.”

If workers strike, a deal between the union and TTC would keep the system running until subway service ends, between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. Wheel-Trans, the paratransit service for people with disabilities, would also continue uninterrupted.

“We’re not trying to harshly remove service so that people are stranded or abandoned,” ATU Local 113 president Marvin Alfred said at a news conference earlier Thursday.

“But we are doing our best to signal if you don’t have to be in the system at midnight, why would you enter the system?”

The last TTC strike in 2008 ended after less than two days when the provincial government held a special weekend sitting to legislate the union members back to work. Several other ATU Local 113 job actions, including a record 23-day strike in 1970 and a 45-day work-to-rule campaign in 1989, have ended with legislation.

TTC chair Jamaal Myers said early Thursday that he was “encouraged” that both sides remained at the bargaining table. He said the TTC was committed to securing a deal that avoids any job action that would be “disruptive to the lives of millions of Torontonians.”

TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said the agency believes there is “enough progress and goodwill that we can get an agreement without job action.”

Alfred dismissed those assurances and said the union was “ready to pull the pin.”

Wages, benefits, and a number of job security issues are top sticking points for the union, Alfred said. The union wants protections against contracting jobs out to third parties and from cross-boundary service getting handed over to other Greater Toronto Area transit operators.

Neither side has offered specifics on any proposed negotiating terms.

A more than decade-long strike ban on TTC workers was recently lifted after a judge found a provincial law that labelled them essential workers was unconstitutional. Last month, the Court of Appeal for Ontario dismissed an appeal brought by the province and upheld the workers’ right to strike.

Transit workers were backed Thursday by the Ontario Federation of Labour.

“These workers lost the right to strike for 12 years but they didn’t just go to sleep,” OFL president Laura Walton said at the same news conference where Alfred spoke.

“For the last 12 years, they have been building the power that they needed. They were building the solidarity that they needed. And on behalf of 54 unions and one million members, I stand here proudly in full support of what ATU 113 needs to do.”

– With files from Allison Jones and Paola Loriggio.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 6, 2024.

Jordan Omstead, The Canadian Press