The union representing TTC workers and the city have started a war of words over what it means to be an essential service in Rob Ford's Toronto - and how the city will pay for it.
With workers' contracts expiring at the end of March and the city requesting that the province curb their right to strike, the union boss is already sparring with city officials over whether TTC workers deserve compensation on par with Toronto's police and firefighters.
ATU Local 113 president Bob Kinnear has been quoted recently saying he believes transit workers, if declared essential, should get the same pay as Toronto's other essential emergency services.
He told the Globe and Mail on Monday he has been forced to take this position by the city.
On Thursday, city council voted 28 to 17 in favour of asking the province to make the TTC an essential service. Now it's a waiting game to see if the province takes action before union negotiations begin in February.
"We don't believe that we meet the same threshold as the police and the fire. It's the city that's making that argument," Mr. Kinnear said in an interview. "If the city - city council, and the Toronto Transit Commission - want to deem us an essential service equivalent to the firefighters and police, then we would obviously argue that the compensation should be the same."
A 4th class Toronto police constable currently earns $56,731 in base pay, while a 1st class constable earns $81,046. A first class firefighter, the lowest rank, earns $78,741.
Meanwhile the top rate for a TTC operator is $29.43 per hour, and $35.31 per hour for a mechanic, according to TTC's director of corporate communications Brad Ross.
Mr. Kinnear said employees typically earn $56,000 to $57,000 on average before overtime pay.
But TTC chairman Karen Stintz, who voted in favour of council's request to the province, said the assertion that TTC workers be paid at the same level as Toronto's finest was entirely off base.
"They aren't doing the same job as police and firefighters," she said. "I'm not sure that's a reasonable expectation given that they're not doing the same job."
But Mr. Kinnear said by being made an essential service, the city is putting them in the same, albeit unwanted, position.
"We recognize the important job that police services and fire provide to this city and we have the utmost respect for them and the jobs that they do each and every day putting their lives on the line," Mr. Kinnear said. "That's the whole reason why we don't believe we should be characterized the same as them."
While he's already said more work-to-rule campaigns are in store if the TTC is deemed essential, Mr. Kinnear said the focus will also turn to equal pay.
"Is it unreasonable to think, that if we were deemed, our organization was deemed, an essential service that we wouldn't put forth our best arguments to increase the compensation?" he said. "Why wouldn't we do that?"
That mindset is likely to anger already disgruntled transit users, but Mr. Kinnear said they have the city to blame.
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