It’s 7:30 on a Monday morning. The hustle and bustle of the morning rush has begun in Scarborough.
Newspaper stands are half empty. There is not a seat on the subway at Kennedy, or even room to stand. Hundreds of people are packed into every subway car, shoulder to shoulder, back to back trying to get to work or school in time.
The Toronto Transit Commission is the country’s largest public transit system providing service to over 1.3 million people a day in Toronto.
Ontario’s Liberal government is considering a prohibition on strikes from TTC workers, declaring the transit system an essential service. The government and the city are looking to have this declaration officially passed before the first labour contracts expire at the end of March.
Scarborough residents and officials appear to support the move, with only transit workers opposed.
A TTC driver for the Malvern Division in Scarborough, who would only identify himself as Paul W., says he’s not happy about it.
With their right to strike taken away, Paul worries about his and his co-workers’ safety on the job.
“Have you ever been spat on? Abused at your job for no apparent reason?” he asked. “One woman in the union is now half deaf because of a rider who was having a bad day and decided to punch her in the ear continuously. So are you saying we have no right to strike for our safety? For our benefits?”
Vikas Gupta, a student at Centennial College’s Morningside campus in Scarborough, relies solely on the TTC and favours making it an essential service.
“I totally depend on TTC for my convenience to school, to my job and even for my weekend groceries,” Gupta said sitting on the 38 Highland Creek bus heading to school.
Paul doesn’t agree with making public transportation an essential service when he believes people have other means of getting around.
“If there’s no bus there’s taxis, bikes, and people can walk. So when you can walk and you are not stranded then it’s not essential,” he said. “Everything in North America is essential because we’re spoiled.”
During the 2008 TTC strike, workers were legislated back to work by Queen’s Park two days after they walked off the job.
Declaring TTC an essential service is expected to cost the city more when contract bargaining.
Mike Foderick, Ward 17 councillor Cesar Palacio’s executive assistant, says a TTC strike is unnecessary and would causes chaos in and around the city.
“I don’t want to generalize but the polls show that those who take the transit are workers and so people can’t go to work, can’t make it to their shifts and they’ll have to take their vacation days,” he said. “This causes Toronto a ton of chaos.
“Making the TTC an essential service is the most pro-worker thing you can do because when transit shuts down, it literally grinds the city to a halt.”