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Bill introduced to remove right to strike from Toronto transit workers

A TTC subway station sign. TTC riders boarding a streetcar. Service on the 504 King and bus routes will increase starting Jan. 5, 2014. Photo by Cameron Walker

TORONTO, Ont. – The McGuinty government tabled legislation Tuesday afternoon to designate the TTC as an essential service.

The legislation was introduced at Queen’s Park and will take away the right to strike from Toronto Transit workers, ensuring TTC trains and buses remain on track while the union and transit officials enter negotiations when the contract expires on March 31.

“It’s the right thing to do, right now,” Labour Minister Charles Sousa said, who introduced the bill at 3 p.m. “A million-and-a-half riders, that’s a million-and-a-half reasons to act.”

Sousa believes the designation won’t taint the bargaining process, pointing to 6,000 provincial contracts that have been settled despite being essential services.

This was another high-profile campaign promise from Mayor Rob Ford, and Premier Dalton McGuinty said it’s all about helping the people of Toronto.

“We have received a proposal from Toronto city council, we’ve talked to representatives of the workers as well, and of course we’ve heard from many Torontonians,” McGuinty said.

The Premier hopes the bill will pass before the March 31 deadline, which is when TTC worker contracts expire.

While the the New Democrats haven’t officially expressed their stance, McGuinty may be able to count on the Progressive Conservative vote.

“I will support Mayor Ford’s efforts to carry through on his promises to Toronto families,” PC Leader Tim Hudak said after question period in the legislature.

TTC union boss Bob Kinnear was grim-faced as he left the very brief meeting with labour ministry officials.

“We’re disappointed” Kinnear told 680News.

The city argues making transit in Toronto essential is about guaranteeing continuity of service but Kinnear says this is really about picking a fight with the unions. “This is what this legislation is about. It’s 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.”

Kinnear told 680News rejected TTC Chair Karen Stinz’s arguement that making transit essential in Toronto is about service continuity for riders. “Unfortunately, Karen has the wrong C word. She is looking for confrontation.”

He says he will fight the legislation any way he can including through possible legal action.

However he said TTC workers will stand by their promise not to strike or take any other job action.

Kinnear also accused the McGuinty Liberals of rushing the legislation to buy votes in Toronto in the fall election.

“Their objective is to try to please city council, thus ensuring that they may be able to hold onto their seats in the Toronto area and that’s what this is really about.”

Earlier this month, TTC union boss Bob Kinnear asked the province to slow down the process, and promised not to strike.

The legislation needs two more readings at Queen’s Park, before it becomes law.

The city’s economy takes a $50-million hit every time the TTC pulls the brakes on service.

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