TORONTO - Toronto Transit Commission workers shocked the city Friday night by voting against a tentative contract agreement and declaring a surprise strike to protect their safety from "angry and irrational members of the public."

Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union voted against the tentative agreement reached last weekend with the TTC and union head Bob Kinnear said the suddenness of the walkout was to protect his members.

"We have assessed the situation and decided that we will not expose our members to the dangers of assaults from angry and irrational members of the public," Kinnear said.

"The reports from our members of increases in threats and abuse from passengers last weekend ... has left us no choice but to withdraw our services immediately. We have a legal responsibility to protect the safety of our members and so does the TTC."

But the transit workers' latest move was sure to outrage already stressed commuters, who thought the prospect of a strike had come and gone. A last-minute tentative deal was forged last Sunday, just hours before the union's nearly 9,000 workers were ready to walk off the job.

"Wonderful," was the reaction of 41-year-old security guard Sean Patenaude, as he waited for a street car late Friday night.

"It's going to screw up a heck of a lot of people trying to get to and from their jobs, it's going to cause a lot of economic hardship and a lot of personal hardship," he said.

"It's unforgivable really, you can't hold the entire transit population of the city hostage on a whim and that's what it's starting to feel like."

The tentative deal was ratified earlier this week by the Toronto Transit Commission and the union had recommended that its members accept the three-year deal, which included annual three per cent wage increases.

The union said it will be meeting Saturday morning to discuss its next steps and wouldn't speak to the media until after that discussion.

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