MONTREAL (Reuters) - Transit workers in Toronto went on strike at midnight on Friday after rejecting a tentative contract deal, shutting down bus, streetcar and subway service in Canada’s most populous city.
Local 113 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents 9,000 operating and maintenance workers, rejected the proposed three-year pact by a vote of 65 percent and walked off the job.
The Toronto Transit Commission said that because of the legal strike, there would be no service as of Saturday.
The TTC carries more than 1.5 million passengers every weekday. A strike will cause serious problems for many workers who rely on the service, which covers a wide metropolitan area where some 5 million people live.
The union said on Saturday it had agreed to a request from the Ontario Ministry of Labour for both sides to return to the bargaining table on Saturday afternoon.
“We are doing everything we can to resolve this dispute in line with our members’ decision to reject the settlement,” said Bob Kinnear, president of Local 113. “We will continue to attempt to reach a negotiated agreement.”
Union officials said the strike was called immediately rather than allowing 48 hours’ notice because they feared a public backlash against transit workers.
“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 in a statement issued late on Friday night.
The rejection of the tentative deal has been blamed on members’ dissatisfaction with plans to contract out maintenance work as well as its wage and benefits provisions.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty recalled the provincial legislature for an emergency session on Sunday to pass back-to-work legislation to try and avoid chaos when the work week begins.
The City of Toronto said it would implement measures aimed at aiding the flow of traffic during the transit strike, such as restricting parking on major arteries and designating certain lanes reserved for buses as car pool lanes. The city’s bicycle path and lane network would also be broadened.
Union and transit commission officials had reached a tentative deal last Sunday, averting a strike that was to begin the next day. The TTC had offered 3 percent wage increases in each of the three years of the contract.
The TTC staged a one-day illegal walkout in May 2006, stranding commuters and costing the TTC about C$3 million ($3 million) in lost revenues.
The last legal walkout by TTC workers was in 1999 and lasted two days before the province legislated the union back to work.
Reporting by Robert Melnbardis; Editing by Eric Walsh