TTC union backs down on opposition to vaccination policy after labour board filing
Published Wednesday, September 29, 2021 11:58AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, September 29, 2021 6:28PM EDT
After weeks of telling its members not to disclose their COVID-19 vaccination status, the union representing TTC workers has done an about-face the day after the transit agency filed an application to take them to the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
In a message posted to the union’s website Wednesday, ATU Local 113 President Carlos Santos said the union has made their message heard “loud and clear” and he is now advising members to comply with the TTC’s vaccination policy by disclosing their vaccination status on or by Sept. 30.
The move follows weeks of the union advising its 12,000 members to do the opposite and comes a day after the TTC filed an urgent application with the Ontario Labour Relations Board seeking to have the union’s actions deemed an illegal strike action.
The TTC's vaccination policy, announced on Aug. 19 and finalized on Sept. 7, required employees to disclose their COVID-19 vaccination status by September 20, but less than half of TTC employees had done so by that date.
In its application to the labour board Tuesday, the TTC said the union and its messaging were responsible for the "abysmal" compliance rate with the vaccination policy and sought a cease and desist order compelling ATU Local 113 to stop telling employees not to comply.
“Their campaign is having an effect and we say that in our filing yesterday with the board, that their campaign is muting the response we're getting on the status disclosure,” TTC spokesperson Stuart Green told CP24 Thursday.
He pointed out that the TTC has five different union groups and ATU Local 113 is the only one that has advised its members not to cooperate.
While the union changed its message on Wednesday, it slammed TTC CEO Rick Leary, calling his approach “confrontational” and claiming that he “failed repeatedly to share vital information.”
“In the case of vaccination policy, Leary’s failure of leadership created an unnecessary and unfortunate crisis. Other transit agencies navigated this issue thoughtfully and reasonably,” Santos said in a statement Wednesday. “We have offered reasonable solutions, but management have never offered anything except the most punishing policy possible – designed to threaten and frighten our members.”
He said the TTC refused to consider frequent testing as an alternative to vaccinations.
“The reality is that most of our members are vaccinated but are also deeply concerned that their employer is seeking to force workers to undergo a medical procedure under duress,” Santos said.
He said a number of TTC employees do not wish to be vaccinated for systemic reasons stemming from colonialism, racism, socio-economic reasons and religious beliefs.
For its part, the TTC said in its claim that there had been few meetings where the union actually spoke with management and that Santos had refused follow-up meetings after the policy came into effect.
The TTC has said the policy is necessary in order to instill public confidence in the transit system as the city continues to navigate the pandemic.
Green said earlier Wednesday that opposing the vaccination policy actually makes workers less safe.
“So 113’s position is curious because at the same time as they're saying ‘don't disclose’ they’ve got a number of employees who are working together, who won't know each other’s status,” he said. “It's a very curious position. Our preference is that everybody at the TTC gets vaccine by the end of October, and it will be mandatory at that point.”
In a statement, TTC CEO Rick Leary acknowledged the change from the union and said he hopes it leads to better cooperation.
“I want to acknowledge Mr. Santos and Local 113's reversal of position,” Leary said. “It is my hope that this will set a new tone for ATU Local 113 in working with us as we all seek to keep the TTC safe and put this pandemic behind us.”
He added that in light of the development, the commission is extending the deadline for all TTC employees to disclose their status to Oct. 6.
Green said that as of Wednesday, disclosure across the TTC stands at about 60 per cent.
Speaking with reporters at a briefing Wednesday, Mayor John Tory said that if one “strips away the political considerations” he is “very heartened” by the developments.
“It's a good result, that will hopefully allow us to continue to make progress on something that I think is important to the operators, who've done such a great job for us, but also to the public who travel on the TTC,” Tory said.
REVERSAL COMES AT SAME TIME AS NEWS CONFERENCE TO DOUBLE DOWN
Santos’ statement reversing the union’s position was issued moments after he had been scheduled to join independent MPP Roman Baber, who opposes lockdowns and mandatory vaccinations, for a press conference at Queen’s Park.
Baber held the news conference to promote his private member’s bill, which would prevent workers from being fired or placed on leave because of their vaccination status or for failing to disclose their vaccination status.
Santos lent the bill his support in a statement included in a news release sent out just before Baber’s news conference.
In the release, Santos said "ATU Local 113 believes that it’s wrong for TTC management to make TTC employees choose between their personal health matters and putting food on the table.”
As Baber got up to speak, he said Santos had come to Queen’s Park, but would not be joining him for the news conference on the advice of lawyers due to the legal application filed by the TTC.
Shortly after the news conference, ATU Local 113 issued Santos’ statement reversing course on compliance with the TTC’s vaccination policy.
A spokesperson for ATU Canada then issued a separate release clarifying that the national organization had not been involved in the Baber statement which included comments from Santos on behalf of the local.
“As an organization, we just want to clarify that ATU Canada was not consulted on this Bill, we do not have a relationship with MPP Roman Baber, and we don’t support him and his views,” the union said in its statement.
For his part, Baber told CP24 that he never sought the support of ATU Canada and that he had only dealt with ATU Local 113, which is headed by Santos and represents TTC workers.
Santos has not so far issued any clarification about his position.