By Donna Burman, TTC employee
Getting leaner and more efficient sounds great. It may even save taxpayers money. There have been endless cutbacks to all kinds of programs since the election. But still the province continues its endeavour to add subways to their burden by uploading Toronto Transit Commission into provincial control, presumably Metrolinx, the crown corporation. That word “efficiency” has been used countless times by Premier Ford, yet here they are trying to find ways to upload the Toronto transit system to the province.
“Efficiency” in transit systems
The Toronto transit system is used everyday by over a million riders. Uploading the subway into the hands of the province will come at a great cost to its passengers and to the labour movement. Finding efficiencies may sound great in theory but what does ‘efficient’ mean? The 407 highway was privately sold to ensure it remained ‘efficient’. Costs soared in the name of ‘efficiency’.
Currently, the Union-Pearson Express train, operated by provincial crown corporation Metrolinx, is under fire for a lack of transparency in operation costs. Metrolinx considers the UP Express as part of the GO Transit service and the operating cost is not broken down into parts according to Ben Spurr, Transportation writer for The Toronto Star.
Unlike Metrolinx, the operating costs for the Toronto Transit Commission is fully transparent as a public entity. Anyone can see its costs on a monthly basis as the public system is accountable to the public it serves.
At this time, there can only be speculation as there isn’t any concrete government plan in place. As it currently stands, “efficiency” means cutbacks to save money in budgets. Yet to save money in transit will directly impact the basic labour rights that unions have fought hard to get in the first place. Efficiency seems to be mean privatizing public assets.
“Efficiency” and contracting out
Currently, Toronto’s transit workers’ union, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 113 is in arbitration regarding contract negotiations (Ontario Liberals revoked the right-to-strike for TTC workers in 2011). Unionized workers of ATU 113 have been without a contract since the last one expired on March 31, 2018. Both the union and employer have yet reached any agreement. There is speculation that the employer wants removed labour rights previously fought and won by the union: all in the spirit of finding ‘efficiencies’.
A key element to many collective agreements is a contracting-out clause. Some companies have a strict no contracting-out clause while others are more relaxed. In a unionized environment, collective agreements often have a degree of job protection embedded in such a clause including attrition where the unionized worker keeps a job but is offered something else within the company. Or, if a contractor is hired, job protection comes from a job offered by the contractor with certain with similar wages and benefits.
The ATU Local 113 contract with the TTC had a strict no contracting-out clause in the last collective agreement. Now in the name of ‘efficiency’, job protection would be completely eliminated with the hiring of private contractors doing work agreed upon between union and the company. At this time, the transit workers’ union is fighting against the removal of job protection. A grievance has been filed regarding contracted-out cleaners.
Another danger is that for the first time in its history the Toronto Transit Commission considered hiring part-time workers. All transportation positions historically have been a minimum forty-hour work week and a full-time position. Now, part-time could consist up to 35 hours per week. What remains unclear is the impact on benefits and wages.
In recent years, ATU Local 113 unionized customer service representatives which are considered part-time. Yet the work week is 35 hours plus 5 one-hour unpaid lunch breaks. So technically, they are considered full-time when working 35 hours. At this point, the impact of part time is a step back for the labour movement whom fought hard for the forty-hour work week.
Privatization and impact on transit users
The province wants to upload the subways and look into other ways to maintain and build them. Would that mean the door has opened for even more privatization? A private company may handle maintenance as the province has made it clear that the public transit system would only be operating it. Introducing the matter of profits would become very dangerous for both transit workers and riders.
Privatizing transit means less service but a higher cost for both the transit rider and the taxpayers. For transit workers, it means contracting out, part-timing the workforce, and an attack on benefits and rights.
The ongoing contract negotiations and the idea of uploading the TTC to the province are a direct and immediate threat not only to the unionized employees of this transit system, but the public, and every other public service.