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Ontario will fight TTC union attempt to strike down 'essential service' law

Last Updated Oct 26, 2015 at 7:39 pm EDT

Ontario’s Liberal government said it will fight a union attempt to strike down a 2011 law declaring the Toronto Transit Commission an essential service, which took away its workers’ right to strike.

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 113 is asking the Ontario Court of Appeal to declare the TTC’s essential service designation unconstitutional, and says it expects the case to end up before the Supreme Court of Canada.

Union local president Bob Kinnear said the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would be hollow if it can be ignored simply because “it may be inconvenient to get around the city” during a transit strike.

ATU Local 113 represents more than 10,000 operating and maintenance staff at the TTC.

The ATU’s motion is supported by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), on behalf of Locals 2 and 5089, representing TTC fare inspectors and special constables, and electrical, signaling and instrumentation technicians.

The Liberals’ McGuinty government passed Bill 150 (Toronto Transit Commission Labour Disputes Resolution Act) in March of 2011, designating the TTC as “essential service.” It also allows for binding arbitration if the union and employer cannot achieve a collective agreement.

At issue, the unions say, is Section 2(d) of the Canadian Constitution’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“Freedom of Association”).

The ATU said in the past, the Supreme Court limited workers’ right to strike, despite Canada ratifying the International Labour Organization Convention (ILO) No. 87, which concerns freedom of association.

“The ILO has repeatedly ruled that the right to strike can only be curtailed in exceptional circumstances, when the interruption of an essential service would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population,” the ATU said in a release.

In February, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of the right of public sector workers in Saskatchewan to strike despite being an essential service.

“The right to bargain with your employer about the value of your skill, knowledge and effort is meaningless if you cannot legally withhold your labour as a part of the bargaining process,” Kinnear said in a release.

“Our challenge to Bill 150 is of much larger consequence than our right to bargain for our work. It is also a challenge against the power of government to limit any of our Charter rights without compelling reasons that would stand up in a neutral court of law.”

However, Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said 1.5 million people rely on Toronto’s transit system every day, and in the government’s opinion, it remains an essential service.

He said the province has not considered declaring GO Transit an essential service, something the Progressive Conservatives say should be looked at.

Flynn said the province enacted the TTC essential service designation four years ago at the request of Toronto city council, and the government “intends to defend itself” in court.