In a bid to encourage the province to hold off on designating the TTC an essential service, the union representing transit workers vowed not to strike during upcoming contract negotiations.
At a news conference Thursday, Bob Kinnear, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, called for Queen's Park to hold more extensive public consultations before making a decision.
The move was calculated to remove the urgency of deciding the matter before the workers' contract ends March 31. If talks stall, he said the union would request binding arbitration rather than walk off the job or disrupt service.
"In other words, we will act as if an essential services law was already in effect," Mr. Kinnear said. "This will effectively give the mayor what he wants, but will also allow for more consultation than [he]has so far been willing to give."
The province, however, said the union's pledge would not play a part in its decision-making. The province is consulting with TTC managers, unions and the city, and has yet to decide what it will do, said a spokesman for Labour Minister Charles Sousa.
"We've spoken to a number of people, we have a few more to go," said Greg Dennis.
He also said the government was operating on its own time and was not necessarily bound to pass any legislation before the contract ends.
Premier Dalton McGuinty, similarly, was non-committal. "I'm not saying how much time we're going to take, but I am saying at this point in time we're still listening," he told reporters in Kingston.
An essential services designation, such as that which exists for police and other emergency services, prohibits workers from striking. If negotiations become deadlocked, the matter is decided by an arbitrator. While Mayor Rob Ford and some councillors have championed declaring the TTC essential as a way to prevent strikes, such as the one that hobbled the city one weekend in the spring of 2008, others have argued that such a move would result in more costly contract settlements, as arbitrators often award union members raises above the rate of inflation.
Only the province can make the TTC an essential service. In December, councillors passed a resolution asking them to do so.
Following Mr. Kinnear's announcement, TTC chair Karen Stintz told reporters the city was still pushing for the legislation, but said she was open to talks with the union on preventing strikes.
"We do need to be clear that we will be pushing forward, we are committed to the legislation," she said. "But if there's a way we can achieve that collaboratively, we are willing to do so."
With a report from Karen Howlett