TTC claims employee vaccines disclosure refusal an illegal strike
Sept. 29, 2021
The internal fight over the TTC’s vaccine mandate escalated Tuesday when the transit agency formally accused its largest union of engaging in an illegal job action by opposing the policy and causing “abysmally low” compliance rates among employees.
In an application filed with the Ontario Labour Relations Board on Tuesday afternoon and obtained by the Star, the TTC claims Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, which represents close to 12,000 transit agency employees, is violating labour laws by directing its members not to share their vaccination status with management.
Employees confirming their status is the first step in the vaccine mandate the TTC introduced in Sept. 7, which requires all workers and contractors to be fully inoculated by Oct. 30.
The union’s directive is illegal and “interferes with the ability of the TTC to operate and manage the public transportation system in a safe manner,” claims the application, which hasn’t been tested at the board.
A spokesperson for Local 113 said the union was unable to respond to the Star’s request for comment Tuesday evening. But in an earlier statement, Local 113 president Carlos Santos defended the union’s opposition to the vaccine mandate.
“ATU Local 113 supports vaccinations for all members who choose to receive them. The real issue is (TTC CEO) Rick Leary and TTC management’s failure to properly consult our union on its policy, failure to provide adequate information to assess the policy and failure to earn the trust of our members,” he said.
The TTC policy originally required workers to disclose their vaccination status by Sept. 20. But Local 113 has urged members not to share their status on the grounds that it’s “confidential personal health information” that management has no right to ask for.
A day before the initial Sept. 20 deadline only about 38 per cent of employees had confirmed their status, and last week the TTC extended the due date to Thursday, Sept. 30. With just hours to go before the new deadline, the latest figures provided by the agency show only about 56 per cent of employees have disclosed.
“It is clear that the concerted refusal by the ATU members to disclose their vaccination status to the TTC is a direct result of ATUs instructions,” the TTC said in its application. “It is a call for illegal job action that has resulted in an abysmally low disclosure rate by ATU members.”
The application claims the union’s directive is a form of strike, which as defined by the Ontario Labour Relations Act can include “concerted activity on the part of employees designed to restrict or limit output.” The agency says the union’s actions violate its collective agreement as well as the Labour Relations Act and provincial legislation that designates the transit agency an essential service and bars its employees from striking.
Among other remedies, the TTC is asking the board for a declaration that members who refuse to disclose their status are engaged in an illegal job action, and an order directing union leaders to tell workers to comply with the mandate. The agency says its application is urgent, and has asked it to be heard on an expedited basis.
Alison Braley-Rattai, an assistant professor of labour studies at Brock University, said in her view it’s “a big stretch” for the TTC to claim the union’s actions amount to an unlawful strike.
“Really, the only way that this action could restrict output is if the TTC starts to remove employees from work assignments as a response. While this might be a reasonable thing for the TTC to do in order to manage operations safely, it seems an overreach to say that this should be captured by the definition of strike activity,” she said.
But she noted the argument in the TTC application is separate from the issue of whether the TTC’s vaccination policy is legal. She said on that count, the union is on shaky ground by claiming employees’ vaccine status is privileged information.
“It’s perfectly reasonable in and of itself (for management) to require disclosure of otherwise private information, as long as it’s to meet very specific ends, as long as those ends are clearly legitimate ends,” she said.
The TTC announced in August it intended make vaccines mandatory for its employees, a decision it made public shortly after the city unveiled similar plans for its 30,000 workers. The TTC is a municipal agency but its workforce is governed by a separate collective agreement.
According to the TTC policy, transit workers who don’t disclose their status by the deadline will be required to undergo mandatory education about the benefits of getting the shot. Limited exceptions would be made on human rights grounds, but full vaccination “is a precondition to employment.”
The TTC says that based on vaccination rates in the wider community and the low number of new cases among its employees, most of its workforce has likely already gotten the jab. Of the TTC workers who have disclosed, 92 per cent said they are fully vaccinated, and 8 per cent have had one shot, according to the transit agency.
Other Toronto public sector workers have cooperated with vaccine disclosure requirements at much higher rates than transit employees. More than 87 per cent of City of Toronto workers have confirmed whether they had received a shot, and upwards of 80 per cent of Toronto Police, whose union also opposes their employers’ vaccine rules, have reported.Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency, says 93 per cent of staff have complied with its disclosure requirements.