TORONTO – Toronto Transit Commission workers went on strike after voting against a tentative contract agreement, a surprise development that paralyzed public transportation in Canada's biggest city.
Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union voted against a tentative agreement reached last weekend with the transit commission. Union head Bob Kinnear said the suddenness of the walkout late Friday was to protect his members from violence from the public.
"We have assessed the situation and decided that we will not expose our members to the dangers of assaults from angry and irrational members of the public," Kinnear said. He said his members received threats and abuse from passengers last weekend as the contract was being negotiated.
Toronto Mayor David Miller called the strike "unacceptable and irresponsible" and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said they would introduce back-to-work legislation.
About 1.4 million riders use TTC buses, streetcars and subways every day.
A tentative deal was ratified earlier this week by the Toronto Transit Commission, and the union had recommended that its members accept the three-year deal, which included annual 3 percent wage increases.
The union said it will meet Saturday morning to discuss its next steps.
Miller said the union had promised Torontonians 48 hours' notice before striking and broke that promise. The Ontario government has asked the two sides to return to the bargaining table Saturday afternoon.
The transit workers' latest move was sure to outrage already stressed commuters, who thought the prospect of a strike had come and gone. A last-minute tentative deal was forged last Sunday, just hours before the union's nearly 9,000 workers were ready to walk off the job.
"It's going to screw up a heck of a lot of people trying to get to and from their jobs, it's going to cause a lot of economic hardship and a lot of personal hardship," said 41-year-old security guard Sean Patenaude, as he waited for a street car late Friday.