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Toronto’s transit system running as normal after deal reached to avoid strike

Written by on June 7, 2024

TORONTO — Toronto’s public transit operated as normal Friday morning after the TTC and transit workers announced a last-minute deal to avoid a strike that would have shut down the system and plunged city hall into political tumult.

Contract talks between ATU Local 113 and the Toronto Transit Commission went down to the wire following months of negotiations, with the two sides announcing the deal minutes before a midnight strike deadline.

The union said the framework deal includes progress on key issues like wages, benefits and job security and that it was putting a strike “on hold” as it works towards a final agreement.

The TTC said the tentative deal is fair, affordable and respectful of the important work performed by the transit union.

A strike would have brought transit in Canada’s most populous city to a grinding halt, idling the TTC’s fleet of subways, streetcars and buses, while clogging Toronto’s already congested roadways with extra traffic.

The deal avoids a major political dilemma for Mayor Olivia Chow, whose pro-labour credentials helped her garner the transit union’s endorsement in last year’s election, said Larry Savage, a Brock University labour studies professor.

Chow may have been left to decide if or when to ask for back-to-work legislation in the event of a strike after the province signalled Thursday it would only draft such a bill on her request. The last TTC strike in 2008 ended after less than two days when the provincial government legislated employees back to work on the mayor’s request.

“Chow definitely dodges a bullet,” Savage said.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Chow said she was briefed throughout negotiations and had remained optimistic an agreement would be reached.

“I’m very, very glad that we have a deal,” she said.

Chow also suggested a more than decade-long TTC strike ban imposed by the province may have contributed to the complexity of the negotiations. A provincial law, deeming transit workers essential and banning them from striking, was lifted after a judge found it unconstitutional – a decision upheld last month by the Court of Appeal for Ontario.

“There had been a lot of different demands that had been on the table for a long, long time. And because of that history, it’s complex, there are many issues. So that’s probably why it’s taken a long time,” she said.

One of the most obvious beneficiaries, however, are transit riders and the wider public who overwhelmingly wanted a deal, said Savage, the labour studies professor.

It’s also good for both sides who, at least for now, avoid an imposed agreement, such as through back-to-work legislation, that could seed resentment in the labour relationship.

Union leadership will be put in the delicate position of bringing the deal to a membership it spent months building up for a fight, Savage said. Last-minute de-escalation can have a “disorienting effect for workers,” he said.

“At the end of the day it will all depend on the content of this … agreement,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2024

Jordan Omstead, The Canadian Press