The technicians who control train movements at Toronto’s Union Station are set to strike on Tuesday night at midnight, disrupting passenger rail service at Canada’s busiest transportation hub.
The union that represents 96 workers who operate and maintain the rail station’s track switches and signals gave a 72-hour strike notice after mediated talks with Toronto Terminals Railway, or TTR, failed to yield a settlement.
The workers, who are members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, have been without a new contract since the end of 2019.
The union is seeking higher wages and an improved benefits package amid soaring inflation, said Steve Martin, senior general chairman of the IBEW. Talks were scheduled to resume on Tuesday. “We’ll be at the table as long as the employer is willing,” Mr. Martin said.
Union Station in downtown Toronto is the main rail hub for the Greater Toronto Area, with about 200,000 passengers passing through daily before the pandemic. The biggest users of the tracks are GO Transit, Via Rail and Union Pearson Express. It is also home to a GO Transit bus depot and a Toronto Transit Commission subway station.
The workers control train movements on about 40 kilometres of track in and out of the station. TTR is jointly owned by Canada’s two big freight railways, Canadian National Railway Co. and Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. CN’s labour negotiators are also at the bargaining table.
The union members rejected a tentative agreement in October. In March, they voted 98.5 per cent in favour of a strike.
Mr. Martin said TTR is offering essentially the same deal that was turned down. “It has been made abundantly clear to us that the company is not willing to consider or revisit any of the union’s proposed items to achieve a fair and reasonable settlement other than minimal insignificant changes to the original settlement,” he said.
TTR did not respond to an interview request. A CN spokesman, Jonathan Abecassis, declined to comment while the negotiations continue.
Daniel Pollak, a spokesman for Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan, said a federal mediator will continue to work with both sides to reach an agreement. “Our government has faith in the collective bargaining process and we believe the best deals are reached at the table,” Mr. Pollack said.
Anne Marie Aikins, a spokeswoman for Metrolinx, the government agency that operates GO Transit and UP Express, said supervisors are ready to perform the work of strikers in order to limit the number of delays or cancellations.
“It’s a critical piece of infrastructure and we need all of our contractors working, but in the event of a labour disruption, you have to have a backup plan. And we have one,” Ms. Aikins said. “Our hope is it will significantly reduce any delays or cancellations needed but it doesn’t eliminate them entirely. There’s always the potential for that. And the longer a strike goes on the more difficult it becomes to manage your contingency plan.”
The service may be possibly disrupted as ridership on the regional trains is rising as sports events lift capacity limits and employers require workers to return to the office.
GO and UP Express are operating a combined 330 trains a day, or about 55 per cent of prepandemic levels. Ridership is about 35 per cent of normal volume, Ms. Aikins said, adding less traffic will make it easier to handle a possible work stoppage.
“Ridership is reduced and the number of trains going in and out is reduced, so it will make it a little easier for us to function because you have a little more leeway,” Ms. Aikins said.
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