On the Picket Line

Toronto regional transit workers return to work

By Susan Berman
November 28, 2022

TORONTO — After four days on strike, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1587 reached a tentative agreement and returned to work. The strike was popular with fellow unionists in the region, coming after the Ontario provincial government enacted a series of anti-union measures.

The 2,200 workers, who voted 81% to reject the previous contract offer, went on strike Nov. 7. They include bus drivers, cleaners, service attendants and maintenance workers at GO Transit, the Toronto regional transit system. Workers will vote on the tentative deal in the coming days.

Several hundred strikers and supporters rallied outside the Willowbrook maintenance facility Nov. 8. Strikers enthusiastically chanted “When workers don’t get it, shut it down!” and, referring to the fight won the day before by 55,000 school workers organized by the Canadian Union of Public Employees, “When CUPE don’t get it, shut it down!” The school workers’ strike forced the provincial government to withdraw Bill 28, which outlawed their right to strike and imposed massive fines on the union and individual workers, as well as a miserable four-year contract.

Bus driver Ellen Clark told the Militant the biggest issue in their strike is contracting out the jobs of cleaners, maintenance mechanics and others. “They got away with it because we hadn’t fought it. Now we’re fighting.” In addition to reducing the number of union jobs, she said, contracting out is a health and safety issue because it means union members have less control over job conditions.

Clark and several of her co-workers described the difficult working conditions they face. They work split shifts, but only get paid for part of their gap time, even when they are too far from home to do anything but babysit their bus. They said this wreaks havoc with family lives.

“About 50% of the maintenance jobs at the Willowbrook facility have been contracted out,” ATU Local President Rob Cormier told the Militant.

GO Transit’s rail workers have a different boss — Alstom Transport — and are in the Teamsters union. They weren’t on strike.

An ATU statement says the tentative deal addresses workers’ concerns. It also says, “Although the deal capped wage increases at 1% subject to Bill 124, the Union was able to agree to a wage reopener if Bill 124 is reversed.” Bill 124, enacted by the Ontario government in 2019, imposes a wage increase cap of 1% yearly on 700,000 public-sector workers for three years. It is being challenged in the courts.