The Toronto Transit Commission’s unionized workers will receive a 6-per-cent raise over three years under the first arbitrated settlement since Mayor Rob Ford successfully convinced the province to ban strikes at the transit agency.
Opponents of the decision to make the TTC an essential service had feared an arbitrator would award subway drivers and booth operators generous pay hikes in line with Toronto’s police officers and firefighters, who are also considered essential and forbidden to strike.
But the arbitrator rejected that approach in a decision released to the parties Monday and made public Tuesday.
"There was a perception that being deemed an essential service would have a premium attached to that," said Bob Kinnear, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, which represents 9,500 TTC employees.
"Obviously, the arbitrator’s decision he has not given us that premium. In fact he has made it very clear that we would reflect other transit properties."
Still, the award fell well short of the TTC’s goals: Transit bosses had asked for a four-year wage freeze and a free hand to contract out, citing waste management, bus lines and cleaning as some of the services the TTC wanted to privatize.
Instead, arbitrator Kevin Burkett handed workers raises of 2 per cent annually over three years and left in tact a provision that protects all workers against layoffs in the event of contracting out.
"It's a little rich but it's not too bad," Mayor Rob Ford said Tuesday.
The TTC also won the right to contract out 62 per cent of Wheel-Trans service to accessible cab companies – up from 50 per cent, Mr. Ross said – and the right to demand a doctor’s note from workers for every sick day.
The old contract had allowed workers to take as many as five paid sick days without a doctor’s note.
The union won improvements to vacation policy and benefits.
The award, which is retroactive to April 1, 2011, is sure to affect the budget of the cash-strapped TTC, which has reduced service on some bus routes and is proposing three years of 10-cent fare increases to make ends meet.
The TTC won’t release those financial details until the end of this month, said Brad Ross, a spokesman for the transit agency.
In the meantime, Mr. Burkett’s 17-page decision provides some hints of the potential impact.
Each one-per-cent increase in salary adds $8-million to the TTC’s operating budget, of which 73 per cent is already consumed by salaries.
The 2012 budgets for TTC and Wheel-Trans "do not take account of any wage increases," according to the arbitrator’s summary of TTC management’s position.
"If that is in fact true, I think that that shows negligence on the part of the city, or at the very least the [TTC] commissioners to believe that they were not going to have an increase imposed on them, especially considering they deemed us an essential service," Mr. Kinnear said.
Despite what’s written in the decision, Mr. Ross stressed there is money set aside to cover the raises. It’s just shielded from public view so as not to weaken TTC’s position during labour negotiations.
"We and the city together, through the budget process, have accounted for wage increases," Mr. Ross said. "That’s what we’ll spell out at the June 29 commission meeting."
The TTC’s workers had been without a contract since March 31, 2011 -- one day after Queen’s Park officially made the transit agency an essential service at the request of Mr. Ford and council.
The wage increase is lower than what members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 received in their last deal, but it is slightly higher than what the city’s inside and outside workers accepted in negotiated settlements reached earlier this year. Those workers received 6-per-cent raises over four years, not three.
Mr. Ford and the city’s labour negotiators also managed to strip city workers of some job-security protection, clearing the way for more contracting out.
With files from Elizabeth Church