What’s changed since the 2006 wildcat strike?
When the TTC’s Amalgamated Transit Union local 113 went on strike in May 2006, Toronto was caught by surprise.
Few outside the commission knew labour relations had deteriorated so badly. A year and a half later, what are the top employee issues at the TTC?
In February 2006, carbon monoxide fumes seriously injured several tunnel workers, and in April 2007 another work accident left one employee dead and two badly injured. ATU president Bob Kinnear says some managers are not heeding workers’ safety concerns, and an external firm is to be brought in to improve communications. However, he says the TTC is delaying. Chief general manager Gary Webster states the agency takes safety issues “very seriously” and he is “anxious to get on with it,” adding staff will soon seek approval on a chosen consultant.
At the heart of last year’s day-long walkout was a dispute over rescheduling station-cleaning staff to work nights. Kinnear says, “It was supposed to improve cleanliness — it has not.” The TTC chief admits, “It’s fair to say that in some respects the system was not cleaner and it was difficult to identify any improvement as a result of making those workforce changes.” Neither man would discuss the legal or other proceedings that have ensued, including whether the union is financially responsible for TTC losses that day.
A second stated catalyst for the wildcat strike was the safety of drivers from abuse — including spitting and verbal or physical assault. Kinnear contends the agency has delayed installing movable plastic barriers, citing problems with light glare and whether drivers can decide when to use the screens.
Webster says the real challenge is balancing the need for operators to interact with customers and the TTC’s “responsibility to take reasonable action to protect our employees, and that’s the purpose of the barrier.”
Another unresolved item is the lack of a job description for drivers. Vehicle operator duties have never been formally defined, though the two sides agreed more than five years ago to do so. Kinnear says the TTC has been dragging its heels, despite swiftly classifying non-unionized positions — giving some managers big pay increases.
Webster agreed the issue has been “going on for a long time,” but would not comment on the case the TTC is currently arguing before a “third party referee.”
Kinnear points out the union expects wage increases out of this process, and both confirmed such pay scales are to be decided independently of contract negotiations, set to begin early next year. A TTC driver’s pay currently starts at $19 per hour, rising to $26.60 hourly.