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 not an easy decision to make and came only after reviewing all other options,” TTC CEO Rick Leary said in a statement. “We will take care of the impacted employees as best we can during this difficult time, and I look forward to everyone returning to the TTC once ridership has returned to pre-COVID-19 levels.”
TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said on Twitter that people who are affected will receive benefits through the fall when a review will happen.
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.”
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.
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.”