Toronto Transit Fight Strands Commuters

Hundreds of thousands of frustrated commuters in Canada's largest city were forced to find alternate ways to work Monday as subway stations across Toronto were shut down and buses and streetcars halted due to a labor dispute.

About 800,000 people use Toronto's buses, streetcars and subway trains daily. Only seven buses were operating Monday during the morning rush hour, instead of the 1,300 that would be in service. Subway and streetcar service also was severely crippled.

Ontario's Labor Relations Board declared the sudden strike by Toronto Transit Commission workers illegal and issued a cease-and-desist order demanding they return to work immediately.

"Picket lines are preventing employees from entering the garages," the commission said.

Rick Ducharme, general manager of the country's largest transit system, said he was waiting to see whether workers complied.

The battle had been brewing for months on several issues, including the safety of drivers allegedly attacked while trying to make some commuters pay their fares.

Health premiums, job evaluations and a move to make cleaning crews and employees who maintain the tracks during the day work permanent night shifts were also sticking points.

Bob Kinnear, president of the 8,500-member local of the Amalgamated Transit Union, denied it was an illegal walkout and said his members had tried to report to work.

"They locked the gates and indicated that there would be no service long before our operators had an opportunity to report to work," he said.

The strike — the first in Toronto since 1999 — caught most commuters by surprise. Many said they went to bed Sunday unaware one was possible.

Commuters stood in groups at bus stops throughout the city. Some were on their cell phones, trying to beg a ride from neighbors or co-workers.

"I'm going to have to take a sick day or one of my vacation days," said customs broker Amy Davison. "If I'd have known last night, I could've gotten a ride in with my girlfriend, but now I'm stuck."