TTC union backs off and now urges members to comply with transport agency vaccine mandate
The TTC’s largest union has suddenly retreated in its fight against the transport agency’s vaccination mandate and is now advising its members to disclose their inoculation status to management.
The stunning reversal unfolded Wednesday morning in a series of bizarre events in which the union president was absent at the last minute at a press conference with a former Progressive Conservative Ontario MPP who been kicked out of caucus because of his opposition to pandemic security measures.
Local 113 of the Merged Transport Union, which represents nearly 12,000 TTC workers, had taken a hard line against the transport agency’s vaccination mandate since its announcement on September 7. The union had urged members to defy management’s order to disclose their vaccination status, which the local claimed was private medical information.
But in a message to members On Wednesday morning, Local 113 President Carlos Santos called on the union and TTC CEO Rick Leary to “work together on a fair vaccination policy.”
The statement still had harsh criticism of Leary, who Santos said had “created an unnecessary and unfortunate crisis” around the vaccine issue through his “leadership failure.” But the union president said the TTC leadership had heard criticism from members “loud and clear” and that it was time to cooperate.
“As a result, I and the ATU Local 113 board of directors are now asking… members to comply with the disclosure of immunization status set out in TTC policy,” Santos said.
The drop came after the TTC filed an urgent request with the Ontario Labor Relations Board on Tuesday afternoon, saying the union’s directive asking employees not to cooperate with the mandate amounted to a strike illegal which resulted in “extremely low” vaccine disclosure rates among employees. .
Union representatives confirmed that the Local 113 board of directors made the decision to drop its opposition to the disclosure at an emergency meeting called Tuesday night in response to the TTC’s request. A spokesperson for Local 113 did not explain why the union backed down.
But in an interview, John Di Nino, president of ATU Canada, the parent organization of Local 113, said the prospect of a protracted labor board struggle tipped the scales.
Di Nino, whose national organization had left the door open for cooperation with management on immunization mandates even as Local 113 resisted, said the labor council dispute would have drained union resources and hurt what he said was a more productive strategy of trying to get housing for workers who don’t get bitten. Local 113 has proposed that employees who choose not to be vaccinated could instead be subjected to regular COVID-19 testing.
“The problem is there: are we going to get into a long drawn out battle in the labor relations on this particular part? Said Di Nino. “We think it’s in the best interests of the organization to focus on the bigger fight.”
The overthrow of Local 113 was all the more brutal as it came minutes after an unusual press conference at Queen’s Park in which Independent MP Roman Baber (York Center) announced that the union had approved his so-called Jobs and Jabs Act. The private member’s bill would prohibit workers from being fired or put on leave for refusing to be vaccinated or for failing to disclose their vaccination status.
In a Baber notice circulated ahead of the event, Santos was cited as supporting the bill and listed as attending the press conference, but he did not show up. Representatives from two smaller transport unions representing TTC and Hamilton Street Railway employees were in attendance to support Baber’s legislation.
Prime Minister Doug Ford kicked Baber out of the PC caucus in January after writing a letter to the Prime Minister claiming “lockdown is deadlier than COVID.”
When asked about Local 113’s position on the bill, Santos said in a statement that “ATU Local 113 supports the principle that people should not lose their jobs because of a choice. personal medical. ATU Local 113 does not support any measures that oppose containment or other public health measures to combat the pandemic. “
Local 113 did not respond to questions about why Santos did not appear at the press conference.
Under TTC policy, all employees and contractors must be fully immunized by October 30, with some exceptions for human rights reasons. Workers were initially supposed to disclose their immunization status by September 20, but despite the TTC postponing the disclosure deadline to September 30, on Wednesday just over 60% had provided their status according to the agency.
Despite the lack of disclosure to date, the union and the TTC say they believe the agency’s vaccination rates are in line with those of the general public, and a majority of workers have been vaccinated.
In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Leary said the TTC would again extend the disclosure deadline to October 6 and said the agency was “reviewing the status” of its application with the labor board.
“I would like to applaud the reversal of position of Mr Santos and Local 113. I hope this will set a new tone for ATU Local 113 as we work with us as we all seek to ensure the TTC safety and put this pandemic behind us, ”Leary said.
Some transit workers were shocked by the sudden turnaround in their union. A veteran employee, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, said TTC social media pages were inundated with criticism of the overthrow, and employees who responded to the local’s call 113 to show unity and not to share their status believed that they had been “sold”.
Ralph Ellis, a nine-year TTC bus operator, said he believed the leaders of Local 113 were trying to appear strong ahead of the internal elections in December, but it was still clear that on this issue they were were fighting a losing battle. Although he generally supports the current executive, he was concerned that employees who failed to confirm their immunization status could be laid off en masse.
“Reversing was the only way to avoid a disaster with hundreds of people over,” Ellis said. “I think most (of the employees) will be relieved.”
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