TTC plans to temporarily lay off 1,200 workers amid COVID-19 pandemic
Ridership has plunged 85% amid Toronto's coronavirus-related lockdown
The Toronto Transit Commission says it is temporarily laying off about 1,200 employees over the coming weeks due to plunging ridership amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The move is one of several "cost-saving measures" being enacted to maintain "critically important transit service in the city," officials said in a news release issued Thursday.
"This was an incredibly tough decision today, but it really was a decision of last resort," TTC CEO Rick Leary told CBC News.
"Honestly, it breaks my heart. I've been in this business a long time, these are good employees, they did nothing wrong. It's just a result of COVID-19."
TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said on Twitter that people who are affected will receive benefits through the fall, when a review will happen.
Difficult, sad day here. 1,200 positions to be subject to temporary lay off. Impacted employees will receive benefits through fall with further review then. Service will stay where it is today so all essential trips can continue. Read more at <a href="https://t.co/9e8CVjhNMk">https://t.co/9e8CVjhNMk</a>—@TTCStuart
The organization says service will be maintained at roughly 70 to 80 per cent of regular levels, which is in line with current demand during the pandemic.
Carlos Santos, president of ATU Local 113, which is the union representing thousands of TTC operators and maintenance personnel, slammed the move.
"That's the thank you our members get for sacrificing themselves day in and day out, putting their families and themselves at risk," Santos said in an email to CBC News. "Federal and provincial governments need to step in."
In a letter to members posted to the union's website, Santos said almost 30 workers have tested positive for COVID-19.
"No doubt, this feels like a punch to the gut after all the hard work our members are doing to keep Toronto moving throughout the … pandemic," Santos wrote. "You deserve better than today's announcement."
The transit agency said the pandemic has resulted in an 85 per cent drop in ridership and a loss of $90 million in monthly revenue, which is cash that is "essential to sustain operations."
Leary said that two-thirds of the TTC's revenue comes from fares.
"Right now I think it's impossible to ignore the financial impact COVID-19 is having on the TTC," he said.
"We've really become financially tight when it comes to having revenues come in."
Similar problems are happening in other Canadian cities. On Monday, the transit authority for Metro Vancouver announced nearly 1,500 staff were going to be laid off and 18 bus routes will be suspended as of Friday.
Winnipeg Transit is losing millions, that city's mayor says, and so cuts are also being considered there.
Service cuts a problem, union says
The TTC announced that it is also pausing all salary increases for non-unionized employees, reducing overtime across the organization, reviewing current vacancies and forgoing hiring all seasonal hires. It is also delaying all non-essential capital projects "in accordance with provincial guidelines," according to the news release.
The organization said it's also saving money on utility, fuel and commission costs of PRESTO ridership cards. It said cost-saving measures will add up to savings of up to $25 million a month.
According to the TTC, current service levels will ensure that people currently relying on transit, including health-care providers and grocery workers, will get to where they need to go.
But in his letter, Santos said the layoffs will mean reduced service, which would have consequences for essential and low-income workers.
"Service cuts will lead to overcrowding, which increases risk for spreading the coronavirus to those who are most vulnerable in our city," he wrote.
Pushing for support
The TTC also said in its news release that it is working with the city and transit agencies across the country to make sure "public transit is given proper consideration in any provincial and federal assistance programs."
In a statement Thursday afternoon, Mayor John Tory pushed for financial support from the province and the federal government.
"The entire country is counting on a strong recovery right here in Toronto and in cities across Canada," Tory said.
"Moving to provide emergency funding now will help ensure that recovery and protect vital services like the TTC."