TORONTO, Oct. 26, 2015 /CNW/ - The 2011 Ontario law forbidding strikes or lockouts at the Toronto Transit Commission ("TTC") is being appealed to the courts as unconstitutional. The appeal was submitted today to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice by the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 ("ATU"), which represents over 10,000 operating and maintenance staff of the TTC. The action is being joined by the Canadian Union of Public Employees ("CUPE"), on behalf of Locals 2 and 5089, which represent TTC electrical, signaling and instrumentation technicians, and TTC fare inspectors and special constables, respectively.
The McGuinty Liberal government enacted Bill 150, the Toronto Transit Commission Labour Disputes Resolution Act, on March 31, 2011, in response to a request for such a law by a Toronto City Council led by Mayor Rob Ford. The Act designated the TTC as an "essential service" and provided for binding arbitration if the union and employer were not able to arrive at a freely negotiated collective agreement.
The issue, which goes to the heart of Section 2(d) of the Canadian Constitution's Charter of Rights and Freedoms ("Freedom of Association") is expected to ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court of Canada.
In February of this year, in a case involving the Saskatchewan government and several provincial unions—including CUPE—the Supreme Court broke new ground by ruling in favour of the right of public sector workers to strike as an essential part of the collective bargaining process. Previous Supreme Court decisions had limited Canadian workers' right to strike despite Canada's ratification of the International Labour Organization ("ILO") Convention No. 87 concerning 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.
A September 2008 City of Toronto staff report found that "there had been no noticeable effect upon the response times or ability to respond by Toronto Fire Services, Toronto Emergency Medical Services and the Toronto Police Services, as a result of a strike by TTC employees and the interruption of TTC services" earlier that year. Nor was there any data to support any public health risks arising from that strike.
ATU Local 113 President Bob Kinnear says that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would be hollow if it could be ignored because "it may be inconvenient to get around the city when the transit system is down."
"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. Using the power of the state to force people to work against their will may not bother you if someone else's rights are violated for your convenience. But what happens when they come after your rights?"
"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."
CUPE National President Paul Moist said "the Wynne government can continue to double down on their legislation, with all the time, expense and resources that entails, in what will likely be a loss at the Supreme Court. Conversely, they can do the right thing and demonstrate their commitment to the basic rights of working people and repeal Bill 150."
SOURCE Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113
For further information: Bill Reno: 416.223.7366.