TTC Claims Rejection of Employee Vaccine Disclosure Is Illegal Strike

The internal fight over the TTC vaccine mandate escalated Tuesday when the transit agency formally accused its largest union of engaging in an illegal labor action by opposing the policy and causing “abysmally low” compliance rates among employees.

In an application filed with the Ontario Labor Relations Board on Tuesday afternoon and obtained by the Star, TTC claims that Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, which represents about 12,000 transit agency employees, is violating labor laws by ordering its members not to share their vaccination status with management.

Having employees confirm their status is the first step In the vaccine mandate, the TTC introduced on September 7, which requires all workers and contractors to be fully vaccinated by October 30.

The union’s directive is illegal and “interferes with the TTC’s ability to operate and manage the public transportation system safely,” states the app, which has not been tested at the board.

A spokesman for Local 113 said the union was unable to respond to the Star’s request for comment Tuesday night. But in an earlier statement, Local 113 president Carlos Santos defended the union’s opposition to the vaccine mandate.

“ATU Local 113 supports vaccines for all members who choose to receive them. The real problem is that (TTC CEO) Rick Leary and TTC management did not properly consult our union about its policy, did not provide adequate information to evaluate the policy, and did not win the trust of our members, ”he said.

TTC’s policy originally required workers to disclose their vaccination status by September 20. But Local 113 has urged members not to share their status on the grounds that it is “confidential personal health information” that management has no right to request.

A day before the initial September 20 deadline, only about 38 percent of employees had confirmed their status, and last week the TTC extended the expiration date to Thursday, September 30. With just hours before the new deadline, the latest figures provided by the agency show that only about 56 percent of employees have disclosed it.

“It is clear that the concerted refusal of the ATU members to disclose their vaccination status to the TTC is a direct result of the ATU’s instructions,” the TTC said in its request. “It is a call for illegal labor action that has resulted in an abysmally low disclosure rate by ATU members.”

The application states that the union’s directive is a form of strike, which as defined by the Ontario Labor Relations Act can include “concerted activity by employees designed to restrict or limit production.” The agency says the union’s actions violate its collective bargaining agreement, as well as the Labor Relations Law and provincial legislation that designates the transit agency as an essential service and prohibits its employees from striking.

Among other remedies, the TTC asks the board for a statement that members who refuse to reveal their status are involved in an illegal labor action, and an order directing union leaders to tell workers to comply with the mandate. The agency says your request is urgent and has asked for it to be heard expeditiously.

Alison Braley-Rattai, assistant professor of labor studies at Brock University, said that, in her opinion, it is “a huge exaggeration” for the TTC to claim that the union’s actions amount to an illegal strike.

“Really, the only way this action could restrict production is if the TTC starts removing employees from work assignments in response. While this might be a reasonable thing for the TTC to do in order to manage operations safely, it seems like an exaggeration to say that this should be captured by the definition of strike activity, ”he said.

But he noted that the argument in TTC’s application is independent of the question of whether TTC’s vaccination policy is legal. She said that in that regard, the union is on shaky ground by claiming that the status of employee vaccinations is inside information.

“It is perfectly reasonable in and of itself (for management) to require the disclosure of otherwise private information, as long as it is for very specific purposes, as long as those purposes are clearly legitimate purposes,” he said.

The TTC announced in August that it intended to make vaccinations 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.

In accordance with TTC policy, transit workers who do not disclose their status by the deadline will be required to receive mandatory education on the benefits of receiving the vaccine. Limited exceptions would be made for human rights reasons, but full vaccination “is a precondition for employment.”

The TTC says that based on vaccination rates in the broader community and the low number of new cases among its employees, the majority of its workforce has likely already taken the hit. Of the TTC workers who have released, 92 percent said they are fully vaccinated and 8 percent have received a single injection, 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 percent of Toronto City Workers have confirmed whether they had received an injection, and more than 80 percent of Toronto police, whose union also opposes their employers’ vaccination rules, have reported.

Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency, says 93 percent of staff have met its disclosure requirements.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto reporter who covers transportation. Contact him by email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

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