The TTC has told transit union leaders it’s bracing for a labour shortage next month, when the deadline for employees to get vaccinated expires, which the union warns will mean service cuts and more crowded vehicles.
In a letter sent to Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 leaders Thursday, a copy of which was reviewed by the Star, the TTC said it was delaying the date by which bus, streetcar, and subway operators can sign up for their next round of shifts.
The letter from TTC chief operating officer Jim Ross says the delay is required “to adjust our service and crewing requirements based on the anticipated reductions in available workforce following the vaccination deadline.”
Under the TTC’s vaccine mandate, all employees must be fully inoculated against COVID-19 by October 30. Operators were supposed to be able to start signing up later this month for the November round of shifts, called a “board period,” but Ross’s letter states that’s been pushed back to Nov. 3, after the vaccination deadline.
The TTC introduced its vaccine mandate last month and has said compliance is a “precondition of employment.”
But while the City of Toronto has said it will suspend workers who don’t get their shots, the transit agency has yet to clarify what discipline its workers will face if they don’t follow the mandate.
In a statement to the Star on Thursday, agency spokesperson Stuart Green didn’t explain why the TTC is expecting to have fewer workers available after the vaccination deadline. He said the agency hasn’t made any decisions on discipline and downplayed the significance of the letter, describing it as “one of many that go back and forth between the TTC and ATU113 on a whole range of issues all the time.
“All we are communicating, in this instance, is that we don’t know what the final numbers of vaccinated employees will be come Oct. 30,” he said.
“Obviously our hope and preference is that there are no issues come Oct. 30, but, at this point, we simply don’t know. Safety is paramount to our operations and we will not compromise on that.”
Frank Malta, assistant business agent for Local 113, which represents about 12,000 TTC workers, said, in an interview, that fewer workers would necessitate service cuts.
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Malta warned less service would make the system more crowded and increase the chance of spreading COVID-19.
“If COVID is such an issue to the mayor or to (TTC CEO) Rick Leary, then why are you going to reduce service?” he said.
“You’re leaving the city at risk.”
Instead of the transit authority suspending or terminating employees, Local 113 wants the TTC to offer workers who choose not to get vaccinated alternatives that it says would allow them to continue working safely, such as frequent testing.
(The issue is cropping up elsewhere, too. On Wednesday, the City of Toronto said any city workers who aren’t vaccinated by October 30 will face a six-week unpaid suspension and employees who aren’t vaccinated by Dec. 13 will be fired. One of the two largest municipal workers unions has already filed a grievance over the policy.)
Local 113 has filed a grievance contesting the TTC’s mandate. But last week it dropped its earlier directive asking its members not to comply with management’s demand to disclose their vaccination status.
Wednesday was the revised deadline for TTC workers to confirm their status.
According to the agency, more than 80 per cent of employees have provided their vaccination information, including 76 per cent of union members.
Of those who have confirmed, more than 90 per cent are fully inoculated.
TTC ridership is at about 44 per cent of pre-COVID-19 levels, and the agency is deploying about 98 per cent of normal service, in part, in order to keep crowding to a minimum.
Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr
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