A month-long labor management dispute bubbled over into a wildcat strike in Toronto, at the beginning of Toronto Public Service Week, leaving many citizens stranded in record-breaking heat until a second return-to-work order was acknowledged in time for the afternoon commute.
The spontaneous strike began when 800 mechanical workers walked off the job on May 29 to call attention to a series of ongoing disputes between the union and the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), in particular a plan to switch more than 100 cleaning and tract maintenance workers to permanent night shifts.
On the day the new scheduling was set to begin, several of those workers whose schedules were switched didn’t show up for their new shift. The situation was intensified when operators and other workers refused to cross the picket line, essentially shutting down the entire Toronto transit system.
The Ontario Labour Relations Board acted quickly and issued a return-to-work order early that morning, but the order was ignored.
An additional return-to-work order issued by the labor board later in the day ended the wildcat strike in time for the afternoon commute; however, the restored service was anything but smooth, with some lines not functioning until the early evening.
The strike caught many Toronto citizens by surprise, forcing them to walk, share cabs or find some other means of transportation on what was one of the hottest and smoggiest days in the city’s history.
Both the union and the TTC are blaming one another for the strike. Bob Kinnear, president of Toronto’s local Amalgamated Transit Union, repeatedly denied responsibility for calling the strike, saying that it was a spontaneous decision by its members to call attention to their situation.
In the aftermath, the TTC is intent on collecting the estimated $2 million to $3 million in lost fares from the union and at press time was still weighing the option of suing.
The TTC also planned on docking a day’s pay from the checks of the 800 mechanical workers who walked off the job, but said that those drivers and other workers who refused to cross the picket line would not be fined.
Many commission members are calling for a punishment similar to the $1 million per day that the transit union in New York City was forced to pay following its illegal walkout last year.
In addition, under the Ontario Labour Relations Act, the board can issue fines of up to $25,000 per day against the union and up to $2,000 per member for ignoring the return-to-work order.
In hopes of rectifying the situation with the public, the TTC offered $4 each to any patrons who presented their monthly or weekly pass — a pledge that would pay $840,000 back to an estimated 210,000 pass holders.