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Commuter relief as Ontario orders Toronto's transit workers to end surprise strike

TORONTO - Relieved commuters expressed delight after Ontario's legislature took just 30 minutes during a rare Sunday sitting to order 9,000 transit workers to end a surprise strike that idled the country's largest fleet of subways, streetcars and buses for almost two days.


TORONTO - Relieved commuters expressed delight after Ontario's legislature took just 30 minutes during a rare Sunday sitting to order 9,000 transit workers to end a surprise strike that idled the country's largest fleet of subways, streetcars and buses for almost two days.

All parties supported the bill, introduced personally by Premier Dalton McGuinty, who had called the emergency session just 24 hours earlier under intense pressure to stave off workweek commuter chaos.

"That sounds very good. I'm very happy," Anna Belenkova said as she walked past a still-closed downtown subway station just minutes after the law passed.

"I didn't go out (Saturday) just because of it and many parties got ruined."

The first signs of transit life, that came within hours of the legislation passing, were greeted with obvious enthusiasm.

At one downtown intersection, a gaggle of pedestrians waved at a lone street car and as it passed and the driver obligingly rang his bell in acknowledgement, apparently content to be back on the job.

In introducing the bill, McGuinty thanked the province's politicians for agreeing to return to the legislature and acting "in the best interests of all Ontarians."

He also pleaded with commuters not to take out their frustrations on transit personnel.

"I ask that upon restoration of TTC services, users extend their usual courtesy to workers there for the invaluable service they provide," McGuinty said.

"Courtesy and goodwill are the foundations upon which we should all seek to build."

Both opposition parties supported the lightning-fast passage of the bill, which imposes fines on individuals and the Amalgamated Transit Union local if they didn't heed the back-to-work order.

With the bill passed, the transit system sputtered to life by late Sunday afternoon and was expected at full strength by Monday's commuter rush begins - a welcome relief to the 1.5 million people who use transit weekdays.

"It's good news, good to hear that," said John Keller, who otherwise faced a 75-minute walk to work Monday.

The city was caught flat-footed when the transit workers walked out with barely any notice at midnight Friday night after rejecting a tentative contract reached a week ago by almost two-thirds of those voting. The strike stranded thousands of people Friday night and again on Saturday.

"It's been much more difficult to get anywhere - a lot more walking and calling on people to drive us around," said another pedestrian, Michael Goncalves. "It will be a lot easier (now) to get to school."

It appeared the 3,000 maintenance workers were angry at what they saw as a possible loss of jobs due to contracting out of their work, something the transit commission denied was happening.

The union had said it could not provide a promised 48 hours notice of the strike because it feared for the safety of members at the hands of irate transit users.

Opposition Leader John Tory lambasted union leaders for what he called the "irresponsible" and "selfish" walkout. Commuters and rank-and-file transit workers deserved an apology from them, he said.

"The average operator and driver would not have found it reasonable to have started the strike the way it was started - without consideration to the safety of the travelling public," Tory said.

"It may be up to them to take some of their leadership out in the back and give them a horsewhipping."

Mediated talks on Saturday produced no settlement on the issues, which will be subject under the legislation to binding arbitration.

The TTC and each of its unions were given five days to agree on a mediator-arbitrator or have one appointed by the provincial government.

Labour Minister Brad Duguid, who called public transit the "backbone" and "lifeblood" of Toronto, was careful to say the Liberal government respected the collective bargaining process.

"This is a one-off situation; it's a unique circumstance - one-and-a-half million transit riders that have an incredible impact on our economy, on the environment, and simply on the health and safety of Torontonians," he said.

"We will continue to urge all parties in all negotiations to reach their agreements at the table."

 
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