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TTC as an Essential Service

During the summer 2010 Toronto mayoral campaign, Rob Ford stated he would request the Ontario government review the status of the TTC because “When the TTC isn’t running, the city grinds to a halt and commuters and businesses suffer. TTC service is essential and it must be designated this way in order to prevent costly strikes.”

There are advantages and disadvantages for taking this route to restricting the right for the TTC workers to strike. In this post I will examine some of the terms and issues. 


  • Before the late 1800’s unions including those for railway workers, carpenters, painters, and meatpackers had little influence
  • From the 1950’s to 1980’s larger unions in the manufacturing sector such as the Canadian Autoworkers (CAW) in Canada and the United states gained power due the role of the automotive sector in the economy, large union dues, and the fact that 30% of the workforce became unionized
  • There are advantages to labour being unionized such as prevention of wildcat strikes (those not authorized by the current collective agreement) which lead to disrupted production and violence.

Some experts suggest that unions have been “largely responsible for stabilizing the economy and stimulating its growth…more working people could afford houses, better food, clothing, cars and other consumer goods. Increasing demand for these things created more jobs and even more economic growth.” Facts About Unions Part of Henry Ford’s reasoning for paying workers an unheard of $5 a day in 1903 was that the wage helped the workers to be able to afford the cars they were making. Biography online

What is an essential service? It’s defined as a service, facility or activity of the Government of Canada that is or will be, at any time, necessary for the safety or security of the public or a segment of the public. Treasury Board Secretariat As such, Canadian police, firefighters, and hospital employees don’t have the right to standard strikes as stated in their collective agreements and their disputes must be settled through binding arbitration. Essential service: what it is and isn\’t.

At face value, proponents explain that designation of the TTC as an essential service will ensure reliable service to businesses and smooth running of the city. However in the past 87 years, the TTC has only been on strike 75 days total. This may mean that the request is more likely about a desired image of Toronto as pro-business, pro-TTC rider and unaffected by unions. In a 2008 study, the C.D. Howe Institute estimated banning TTC strikes actually would add a $23-million salary premium since generally arbitrators set higher wages than voluntary negotiations.CD Howe Report


  • Rob Ford, Ontario government Liberals and Progressive Conservatives, and TTC management state that TTC strikes cost too much money, “It is estimated that a TTC strike costs our economy $50 million a day. That’s a significant cost to our economy” says TTC chair Karen Stintz.
  • However the statements that an essential service TTC will cost less and have fewer disruptions are misleading. Unions in essential services can still strike. In “Most sectors considered essential, some workers can still go on strike while the employees whose positions are determined to be vital by their employer must continue to work.” Some employees may strike, but not all. Essential service: what it is and isn\’t. That explains why locations such as New York in 2005 and Quebec in 1982 still experienced transit strikes although they had been designated essential services.
  • Arguments from TTC union leader Bob Kinnear relate to solidarity, “This legislation is about taking on the unions, and it’s unfortunate that the mayor of this city is too much of a coward to be up front about the fact that that’s what he’s trying to do.”Liberals seek to make the TTC an Essential service
  • Further explanations from CBC News “Unions worry about the implications of legislation and say that potentially undermines their bargaining power and takes away the right to strike. Critics of essential services legislation complain that a continuation of services lessens public pressure on the employer to end the work stoppage, resulting in longer strikes.” CBC News background on strikes
  • Finally Councillor Shelley Carroll (Don Valley East) says “We can’t afford to operate the existing [TTC] system on day-to-day basis. We’re just playing short-term political games.”National Post-Trojan horse

I suspect Councillor Carroll is right. As is often the case in union/management conflicts played out in the media, we can be sure that all parties will lose something including the TTC losing riders and the riders losing patience.

What would you like to add to this knowledge? In HR, we often have to implement policies, including union collective agreements, whether or not we have conflicting political and personal views. How would you feel about speaking for against either side regarding making the TTC an essential service?

Feel free to comment.

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