Making TTC reliable

Making TTC reliable

Anyone who depends on Toronto’s public transit system to get around this city – for work, medical or social reasons – may feel a sense of relief that the provincial government is getting ready to make the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) an essential service.

Frustration with the declining level of service that has crept into the TTC has proved a strong basis for public support of this move to rehabilitate the service. For the many for whom public transit is the only way, this decision at the provincial level would be reassuring.

The move to rein in striking city workers has its history. Tensions stemming from union and Toronto City Council negotiations in recent years, including the strike by outside workers that left the city piled high with garbage during the summer of 2009, should serve to place this particular government action in context.

This move by the provincial government, which no doubt has the support of Toronto City Council, is not one that should, however, be seen as a victory for either side since ensuring that TTC workers will not leave the city paralyzed comes at a price. Decisions at arbitration – in the absence of the right to strike – has historically come down on the side of the workers, at least, financially.

Not having the right to strike, of course, means that the TTC’s unionized workers will lose some of their bargaining power. But Torontonians will recall the chaos that came with that sudden strike at midnight Friday, April 28, 2008 – although Local 113 head Bob Kinnear had promised there would be fair warning – and the May 2006 wildcat strike by mechanics, which was immediately supported by drivers.

So now it has come to this.

While making the TTC an essential service will quell the sense of frustration experienced by transit users, it does not solve the underlying problems that exists between the union and management characterized by a lack of reasoned and respectful communication, the mistrust between the unions and City Council at the bargaining table and the relationship each party fosters with the other. Not to mention the tension that arises between drivers and tickets takers on one side and the transit using public on the other. The strain between ATU Local 113, TTC management and local politicians has trickled down to the front lines, and the passengers who use this necessary service face the fallout.

The other matter in this move to make the TTC an essential service is that it could have broader implications for other unionized workers in the public service and perhaps beyond. Toronto police and ambulance are already deemed essential services and cannot exercise the right to strike. TTC workers will now join them.

Given the inconvenience and anger that accompanied the outside workers’ strike as garbage piled up on Toronto’s streets, will they be next? Mayor Rob Ford has already sounded the warning that an increased percentage of Toronto’s garbage disposal services will be contracted out.

These actions by the governments – both the city and the province – might be scrutinized more closely when considered against the increasingly conservative shift in our political culture. In Wisconsin, for instance, there is a fight taking place as the state government, led by Republican governor, Scott Walker, moves to take away bargaining rights from public workers.

The action being taken by the provincial and city governments towards the TTC could be viewed in the same light. However, we hope this is merely a response to the public’s on-going frustration with TTC service and not the beginning of any effort to chip away at the rights of union workers in general.

What Torontonians want is a good, reliable service and staff who treat passengers properly. But, that goes both ways; passengers must also be respectful to TTC staff.

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