A Part of Toronto’s History
For more than a century, Toronto Transit Workers have worked to improve not only their own wages and benefits, but the state of transit and the city itself. Did you know that one of our members was elected Mayor?
2012 marked the 113th anniversary of the founding of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113. For this occasion, a new history was written that highlights the achievements and challenges of the Local since 1899, right up to the present.
This book commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the founding of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 was published in 1999 under the direction of Les Moore, long-time Local 113 Secretary-Treasurer.
In 1992, under the leadership of International President James La Sala, the Amalgamated Transit Union published this history of the union's first 100 years.
It took more than a decade for workers at the Toronto Street Railway System to form a union. The employer resisted all along the line – firing union activists, refusing to negotiate, even forcing workers to join an ‘alternative’ company union.
But by 1899, the workers had succeeded. Division 113 of the Amalgamated Association of Street Railway Employees of America was established.
The Division’s number, which the Local still carries, was a product of this struggle. Throughout the 1890s, a core group of 13 workers led the effort to establish the union. When they finally won, the members wanted to commemorate these thirteen. Already, there was a Division 13 assigned to a Local in the United States. The next closest was 113.
How Far We Have Come
When the union was established, the highest wage was 16 2/3 cents per hour. These wages hadn’t increased in a decade. Uniforms, established in 1892, were paid for by the employees themselves.
Streetcar drivers stood on open platforms in all seasons. They were exposed to the snow, rain or hail. The company fought tooth and nail against drivers having a covered area, claiming that having a glass windshield would obscure the driver’s vision. Nor were drivers allowed to sit on a stool.
The first union committee to approach the company in 1900 won an increase to 18 cents per hour for all workers with five years’ seniority.
In 1902, the union called its first strike. The company responded by calling in the militia to intimidate the strikers. Widespread public support and strong picket lines quickly defeated the company. They agreed to a two-cent wage raise three days into the strike.
The 1902 strike laid the ground-work for more gains in the future. In 1903, the Union won free uniforms.
World War I put a halt to the wage gains that were made over the first decade of the union’s existence. But following the war, a wave of strikes swept across Canada, including the famous Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.
Division 113 was part of this movement to win recognition for the sacrifices that Canadian workers made at home and on the battlefield. Two strikes in 1917 and 1919 pushed workers’ wages up to 55 cents per hour and finally won the eight-hour day.
Depression and Its Aftermath
The Great Depression was a hard time for all workers, especially in the first half of the 1930s, when record unemployment and a weak union movement allowed living standards to fall dramatically.
However, the second half of the decade saw an explosion of strikes and union organizing. Most of the big ‘industrial unions’ that we are familiar with today – the Steelworkers, Auto Workers, Rubber Workers, etc. – were formed at this time.
Local 113 was part of this upsurge and was able to make up for lost time. For instance, the Union was finally able to win one-week’s paid vacation for operators in 1938.
Then, in 1940, after years of union pressure, the TTC finally agreed to set up a Sick Benefit Association and a Pension Fund Association. These were funded on the basis of 50-50 contributions from the company and the workers.
After the war, the post-war boom and the determination of the members that their sacrifices should be rewarded led to numerous gains, including significant wage raises and better benefits.
The union also won the dues check-off system at the end of 1946. This allowed the union to stand on a firm financial footing.
During the Great Depression, mass layoffs meant a big drop in ridership. The TTC wanted to lay off hundreds of workers. The members of Local 113 voted to voluntarily take off 5 days per month to save many of those jobs. They also voted to establish a relief fund for out-of-work members by deducting one per cent from their monthly wages.
Toronto’s Labour Mayor
William “Willie” Robbins was the general secretary of Division 113 from 1901 to 1938. He first started working as an operator for the Toronto Street Railway System in 1895.
Understanding that the struggle to improve conditions and the transit service wasn’t just a struggle in the workplace, “Willie” also ran for public office. He served as an Alderman for 16 years, from 1912 to 1928, then as a Controller for five years (1929-1934).
In 1935 “Willie” was Acting Mayor of Toronto, becoming full Mayor in 1936 and 1937. After James Simpson, who was mayor in 1935, “Willie” was Toronto’s second “labour mayor.”
The Birth Of Rapid Transit
The biggest innovation in Toronto’s transit system – and one of the biggest challenges for the union – was the opening on March 3, 1954 of the subway system.
There was no doubt that introducing a subway would mean a vast improvement to the TTC.
But what to do with the 221 bus operators on the routes that would now be served by the subway?
Two years before the subway opened a committee of executive board members of Division 113 began meeting with the Commission. The purpose was to ensure that no operators were forced out of their jobs and to ensure proper training on the new equipment.
By the time the subway opened, the union reached an agreement with the TTC that reduced the surplus to 30 operators. These remaining were dealt with through the normal processes of retirement and opportunities to transfer to the maintenance department.
Operators with failing health were guaranteed subway collector jobs.
The Union’s pioneering expertise in negotiating agreement that allows members to “follow their work” with advancing technology became the model for ATU locals throughout Canada and the U.S.
No Casual Workforce for the TTC
Beginning during the negotiations for a new contract in 1989, the TTC tried to win the right to hire 450 part-time workers. The union opposed this. The union wasn’t interested in letting the TTC “casualize” the workforce to our members’ financial detriment.
Rather than engaging in an all-out strike that would be quickly ended by legislation, the union decided on a rotating-strike strategy. Effectively, members added an extra day onto their weekend.
As a result of our actions, the part-time issue was referred to a fact-finder assigned by the province, Kevin Burkett.
Two years later, in the summer of 1991, the union was negotiating over the recommendations in Mr. Burkett’s report.
The TTC wanted a “triggering formula” that Burkett had recommended. According to this, under certain specific circumstances the Company would have the right to hire part-timers.
But the membership were in no mood to compromise on the issue.
The Company’s first offer at the end of July was rejected by a vote of 96%. By September 3, the TTC withdrew its demand for the triggering formula.
But the deal the bargaining committee took back to the membership still contained a provision for a summer relief operator. The membership rejected this offer as well.
After four days on strike, the TTC backed off further, reducing the summer maintenance vacation quotas. The Commission revised the offer again to provide for the position of maintenance operator and the Minister of Labour forced a vote.
This offer was ratified and the part-time issue was put to rest.
Cutbacks Kill: The 1995 Subway Accident
Tragedy struck on August 11, 1995, as a subway collision on the Spadina Line, between St. Clair West and Dupont Stations killed three people and injured more than 30.
The line was closed for nine days while the TTC, police and the Coroner’s Office investigated the causes that led to the crash.
The inquest that followed the accident lasted 28 days and heard testimony from 38 witnesses. It wrapped up March 8, 1996, making a total of 18 recommendations.
The inquest concluded that “underfunding since the mid-1980s has contributed to the deterioration of the system and has jeopardized the safety of the TTC.”
The jury argued that the government should be required to commit to “a long-term policy of fully funding the capital and operating needs” of the TTC.
Just over two years later, the Ontario government completely eliminated transit funding. The present Liberal government has not restored it.
The Millenium Went Out With A Strike
After a decade of cutbacks and concessions, the ATU entered negotiations with the TTC in 1999 knowing that they would be very tough.
The slash-and-burn Harris Tories eliminated provincial funding to municipalities for welfare, public health, housing and public transit.
The municipalities that made up the City of Toronto were forced to merge into a megacity and shoulder all the costs, regardless of widespread popular opposition.
Toronto was ending the century and the millenium strapped for cash. The TTC could only rely on municipal tax funds and the fare box to pay its costs. This made it the only public transit system in North America to be hamstrung in such a way.
Former Mayor Mel Lastman campaigned on a platform of no tax increases, making the cash crunch even worse.
Local 113 members had already seen 10% of their wages lost to inflation in the previous decade. As well, they had accepted $72 million in contract concessions in 1996. Enough was enough.
Public Campaign, Public Support
The union understood that the people of Toronto wanted to maintain a quality transit system. Now we needed to convince them that the union was fighting for exactly the same thing.
The Local 113 Executive Board established a Defence Fund with a $5 per week dues increase to fight this battle.
The fund had the potential of reaching $4 million. It would be used for legal services, forensic accounting services, public relations advice and an advertising campaign. In the case of a strike it would also be used to fund strike pay.
Between September 1998 and March 1999, the union spent $250,000 on its publicity campaign, with radio spots and newspaper ads.
The campaign highlighted the work of the membership and the importance of public transit to the City of Toronto. It’s focus changed throughout the negotiations from focusing on quality of life issues to emphasizing the fact that the membership had already made concessions.
We used the campaign to argue against a fare increase and urged people to call Mike Harris and Mel Lastman to give them the message that “Public transit deserves public support.”
The campaign’s slogan was “We keep Toronto moving!”
It’s effect was incredible, winning broad public support for the Union’s position.
Bully Tactics Don’t Work
At the bargaining table, things were not moving forward in the Spring of 1999. The union was determined to achieve its goal of a three-year contract with increases of three percent in each year. The Commission would only offer two percent.
The employer gambled that they could sideswipe the bargaining committee by using the Ontario Labour Relations Act to force a vote against their will. It backfired on them. The membership responded by voting 78% against the TTC’s final offer.
The TTC’s failure led to political chaos. Every politician blamed every other politician. There was even an unsuccessful plot to oust the chair of the TTC, Howard Moscoe.
A strike took place on April 19. The Tories, in discussion with the Mayor’s office and the TTC, moved to recall the Legislature in order to pass back-to-work legislation.
After much back and forth, including a private meeting between the union, the TTC chair and NDP Leader Howard Hampton, an agreement was reached.
The membership ratified the deal by 67%.
The union continued to fight for a better transit system, with a campaign against fare increases – which the city applied at the beginning of May – and a demand to restore public funding.
We Kept Toronto Moving, Even in the Dark
On August 14, 2003, a cascading power failure left Toronto, along with most of the eastern seabord, without power. Up to 50 million people were affected.
The lights were out, air conditioners were off, gas pumps didn’t work, the subways and streetcars were stopped in their tracks.
But the members of Local 113 weren’t sitting idle. They were keeping the city running.
Extra buses were put on the road to replace the electrical streetcars and subways. Almost 100 buses were able to provide a scheduled 4-5 minute mid-day service within 24 hours.
And that wasn’t all. We had to restore radio communications, which were lost when the CN Tower’s generator ran out of fuel. Our members drove diesel fuel supplies around the city to refuel generators along the subway lines and at the TTC’s main offices – as well as at the CN Tower.
Our members went out of their way to deliver emergency fuel supplies to two chronic care facilities.
We had to use our ingenuity to provide lighting for Dispatchers, CIS Control and Traffic Offices. Bus headlamps were attached to batteries.
Our work was recognized by the Canadian Urban Transit Association. CUTA awarded the TTC its Corporate Recognition Exceptional Performance/Outstanding Achievement Award in July 2004.
Even during the largest blackout in North American history, we kept Toronto moving.
The union movement is built on the idea that we are stronger when we work together. Local 113 is proud of its strong history of solidarity.
During the Great Depression, mass layoffs meant a big drop in ridership. The TTC wanted to lay off hundreds of workers. The members of Local 113 voted to voluntarily take off 5 days per month to save many of those jobs. They also voted to establish a relief fund for out-of-work members by deducting one percent from their monthly wages.
The collapse in ridership in the 1990s – the result of cutbacks and fare hikes – had a similar devastating effect on our membership.
While we continued to fight for proper funding for the TTC, the membership agreed to accept $72 million in contract concessions in 1996. It was hoped that these would save 500 jobs and maintain the quality of the transit service.
As it turned out, the TTC’s projected deficit for 1996-1998 of $113 million disappeared. Instead there was a surplus of $9 million. They were off by $100 million!
-The first electrified car in Toronto was put into service on Church Street on August 15, 1892. The last horse-drawn car was taken out of service two years later on August 31, 1894.
-The first Toronto bus service was launched in 1849 by Mr. H.B. Williams. It consisted of four horse-drawn, six-passenger vehicles. It provided a 10-minute service between Yonge and Bloor and St. Lawrence Market for a six-penny fare.
-In 1861, the Toronto Street Railway Company had six miles of track, 11 cars, 70 horses, a number of sleighs and wagons, and carried about 2,000 passengers per day. By 1890, the company owned 68 miles of track, 262 cars, 99 buses, 100 sleighs, 1,372 horses, and was carrying 55,000 passengers daily.
-Until 1891 the Toronto Street Railway Company had no plow to remove snow. Instead, by law, it had to provide enough sleighs to accommodate the public during storms that made the streets impassable to cars.
-In 1925, the TTC launched a deluxe transit service for the well-to-do. The service ran between downtown and the wealthy areas of Forest Hill and Rosedale. The fare was double the normal TTC fare and coaches included a smoking section.
-The TTC launched the Gray Coach inter-city bus service in 1927 as a result of its very profitable charter bus service. Within two years, the Company acquired the rights to all routes leading in to Toronto. In its first year, GCL carried 280,000 passengers.
-The longest transit strike in Toronto’s history took place August 12 – September 3, 1974. It was 22 days.