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Public transit strikes in Toronto and New York: towards an urbanization of trade union power and strategy.


This paper points to spatial foundations of trade union power in a re-urbanizing economy. Globalization has not simply undermined the power of organized labour, but, in addition, has shifted the opportunities of it exercising power to the urban level. Thus we may be seeing the emergence of a new geography of working class organization in which industrial sectors of the labour movement have been disorganized by capital and the state while other sectors have retained structural power due to the importance of union members' labour to the urban process. This is particularly the case in 'global cities', where centralization of capital and agglomeration of functions remains a necessity for capital and where competitive city building entails re-direction of capital investment in the 'fixed environment for production' (Harvey, 1985). Developed abstractly, the argument is made concrete in a discussion of transit planning and transit strikes in New York (2005) and Toronto (2008). The paper concludes on a strategic register with an argument for an urbanization of trade union consciousness.

Keywords: organized labour, production of space, transit planning, labour geography, global city


Cet article se penche sur les fondations spatiales du pouvoir exerce par les travailleurs urbains. Bien que, dans l'economie industrielle, le capital et l'Etat aient desorganise les mouvements syndicaux, les travailleurs conservent un pouvoir structurel en raison de l'importance de leur activite pour le processus urbain. C'est particulierement le cas en ce qui concerne les villes globales, dans lesquelles la centralisation du capital et l'agglomeration des fonctions demeurent necessaires pour le capital et ou les strategies concurrentielles exigent des investissements dans le <<fixed environment for production>> (Harvey, 1985). Cette idee, d'abord exposee dans l'abstrait, est ensuite developpee de facon concrete en se basant sur la planification de transports en commun et les greves de ce secteur a New York (2005) et Toronto (2008). L'article se conclut au niveau strategique et plaide pour une urbanisation de la conscience syndicale.

Mots cles: syndicats, production de l'espace, planification de transports en commun, la geographie du travail, villes-globales


Two workplace strikes of the public transit systems of New York City and Toronto in 2005 and 2008, respectively, speak to specifically urban structural and urban strategic dynamics that are becoming increasingly salient to labour movements in the advanced capitalist world. Both strikes were spectacular displays of workers' bargaining power in the very centres of globalization, the 'global city' (Ikeler, 2011). The urban nature of this power--the ability to shut down the commute that not only makes urban life possible in such vast and concentrated agglomerations, but also whose efficiency in terms of increasing the velocity of value flows through territory has moved to the forefront of urban competitiveness strategies--is not confined to transit workers alone but is shared, to varying degrees, by a significant sector of the labour movement. The spatial restructuring of North American capitalism in particular--de-industrialization and the offshoring of production, re-urbanization and the rise of industrial sectors with strong agglomeration economies--may be shifting bargaining power from workers in the primary, industrial circuit of capital to specifically urban secondary and tertiary circuits (Harvey, 1985). The two transit strikes that concern us here may be understood as comparable events in a series of such actions by workers located at key points in the sphere of circulation (airline workers, port workers, railroad workers) urbanization (building trades, utility workers, city workers) and social reproduction (nurses, teachers, library workers). The specificities in terms of labour relations and labour strategy of an urban shift have not yet been given careful consideration either in labour studies or in urban studies, despite promising groundwork having been done in labour geography (Herod, 1994; 1997; McDowell, 1997; Castree, 2008).

The other side of this urban structural dimension to labour's power is the urban strategic. The increased importance of public transit to the production of a competitive city, notably through the expansion of transit infrastructure and the growing concern expressed by locally dependent businesses over the economic costs of congestion and mobility gaps in transportation infrastructure (Rutherford and McFarlane, 2008; Keil, 2008), has reaffirmed the power that transit workers exercise by withdrawing their consent at work. And yet because of the conjoined use-value/exchange-value nature of the service they produce, any withdrawal of labour power interrupts not only the process of capital circulation, but also everyday life. Inevitably, it does so in an inequitable manner. A strike of the transit system is like a strike against everyday life. This is the dilemma that transit workers face as trade unionists in the city: just as their labour becomes more central to competitive city building and more valuable as a result, the traditional use of this power through withdrawal of consent cannot be used except over and against residents' everyday needs.

The strategic context is further complicated by the fragmentation of urban working classes, seen in the erosion of private sector unionization and the rise of non-standard employment relationships, and expressed politically in municipal tax revolts and broad support for hard bargaining in the public sector. The strike itself has been all but abandoned in the strategic repertoire of the American labour movement, and is consistently stymied in Canada by the routine use of back-to-work legislation (Martin and Dixon, 2010; Panitch and Swartz, 2003). Even when strongly placed unions are in a position to make contract gains in this period, the implications for the broader working class when labour markets are highly polarized between core and periphery, and the working class itself is largely unorganized with little or no bargaining power, differs significantly from the dynamic of union gains under Fordism, when, notwithstanding the exceptional spaces of the US south and gendered secondary labour markets, non-covered workers gained from union settlements through 'spread' and 'threat' effects. The decline of union coverage and bargaining effectiveness has thrown this dynamic into reverse. Non-covered workers are now more likely to see the relationship in inverted, zero-sum terms, with union benefits and wages paid for out of total wages, prices, and taxes, and gains for core workers made at the expense of an expansion in the peripheral, precarious labour force. Emulation is not seen as a viable strategy given the many obstacles raised to unionization and collective bargaining up of wages in a private sector ever more subject to global competitive pressures. Rather than emulation, envy engenders anger at strikes borne of union refusal to agree to concessions. This forms the basis for a politics of resentment--a political disposition Mike Davis (1986) dubbed 'anti-solidarity'--that now cuts through North American working classes, and is directed with particular vehemence at public sector workers. Both transit strikes discussed here were short stoppages that were strongly repressed by the state at the legal, legislative and executive levels, and not without a significant degree of public support. In Toronto, the 2008 transit strike, followed by the 2009 civic strike, fueled the rise of Rob Ford to the Mayor's office in 2010 with a mandate to retrench and outsource public services and take a harder line with the municipal unions.

If the global city has affirmed transit workers' power within urban circuits of value, the political expressions of neoliberalism and the failure to develop an urban strategy that could mobilize the city's transit dependent working class around the inequalities and distributional injustices of mobility in the city radically undercuts the exercise of this power. The problem for the union is a mismatch between the urban nature of the transit workers' bargaining power and the absence of an urban political strategy. It should not be taken for granted that this should be the case. In the public sector, the nature of the work performed cannot easily be separated from the concern of trade union organization with the distributional questions of the workplace. Politics and collective bargaining cannot be compartmentalized, even if public sector trade unionists might sometimes wish and behave as if they were. Because contract terms are limited by budget allocations determined in the political arena, public sector unions are constrained to represent their members' interests in terms that are, at the very least, consistent with the public good (Johnston, 1994). In public transit, the nature of the work relates to the space that is being produced, its quality in terms of the access it affords to the city. Rank and file union activists have a concrete understanding of the ways in which the transit systems in New York and Toronto provide inadequate and unequal levels of service to city residents according to class location and racial status in urban space. And union leaderships understand that pressures for concessions and the impasse in collective bargaining are largely a consequence of under-funding of transit operations budgets in a period of austerity. In the case of the New York Transport Workers, at least, there is a rich tradition of union interventions in urban politics upon which to draw (Freeman, 2001). Yet, trade union strategies which articulate contract demands in terms of the interests of the riders and the broader urban society remain a latent possibility. Public sector unions in general remain wedded to the repertoires of business unionism established in the private sector.

Organization and Method

The article proceeds in three sections. The first relates global city formation to reinvestment in mass transit in order to establish the urban structural basis for trade union power, beginning at the abstract register of value flows then moving towards the more concrete level of transit planning and financing in the case cities. The second section discusses in empirical detail the 2005 transit strike in New York and the 2008 strike in Toronto, including their causes, internal dynamics, economic impact and state response. The final section concludes on a more strategic register with a discussion of what a more expansive urban strategy for transit unions might look like, drawing on current practices.

The original research presented here is based on extensive interviews with key participants and observers over a period of five years, 2006-2010. A total of 26 interview subjects were interviewed by the author, including members, staffers and both local presidents of the Toronto and New York City transit workers' unions; municipal politicians; transit agency officials; and researchers at urban think tanks with profiles on transit issues. A comprehensive list is included in Appendix A. Interviewees were granted limited non-standard treatment, which allowed the subject to structure an account of the situation and raise issues they deemed relevant within the framework of a common set of questions required to ensure comparability of findings across cases. Primary research included, in addition, use archival material from union, municipal government and transit agency holdings, press clippings, budget documents and policy briefs.

The cases were selected to be representative of the relationship between urbanization and the urban structural basis of labor power. Toronto and New York are comparable cases as the primary global cities of their respective nation states. A strong consensus exists on the classification of New York City as a primary or alpha global city, and Toronto as a secondary or beta global city (Newman and Thornley, 2003). Transit was selected as an industry case due its central role in urban development and urban competitiveness strategies and because transit workers have preserved a militant form of workplace struggle that expresses itself periodically in strikes and other workplace actions. This level of struggle is possible owing to the structural position of these workers in the 'fixed' side of a reconfigured geography of capital mobility/capital fixity that has disempowered a much larger segment of the labour movement. Whatever else these strikes may accomplish, they do reveal the agency behind the production of the city's fixed and otherwise fetishized infrastructure (Kaika and Swyngedouw, 2000). Transit systems are social systems that provide social goods, and become in these exceptional moments of industrial conflicts highly visible sites of class agency and class struggle in the neoliberal city.

Transit, Urban Development and Competitive City Building

The spatial advantages which sustain hierarchies in the inter-urban system are produced advantages. Narrowly defined, 'production' implies qualities of standardization and transferability in objects, qualities which allow for unlimited reproduction and exchange. As territorialized 'works' of history--as unique sedimentations of social processes and intentional acts--cities are evidently not brought under the production process to be turned out like commodities for profit (Lefebvre, 1991: 70). However, as circulation becomes ever more important with the unfolding of capitalist development, the organization of movement through territory is internalized to the sphere of production itself (Swyngedouw, 1992). The concept of production must therefore be broadened to encompass the making of spatial relations; put more emphatically, space "infiltrates the sphere of production, becoming part--perhaps the essential part--of its content" (Lefebvre, 1991: 70). The profitability of production comes to depend on the productivity of the territory in which it is located, a function of its spatial form, technological characteristics and social organization (Storper and Walker, 1989). Competitive production for the world market demands the production of competitive places--of urban forms, processes and relations subordinated to the logic of value.

The conceptual distinction that David Harvey (1985) has proposed between urban infrastructures that serve as 'built environment for production' and 'built environment for consumption' is useful in capturing the dual exchange value/use value nature of public transit. Transit systems are productive insofar as they promote urbanization and reproduce the labour market of an urban region on a daily basis. The value that transit systems produce are capitalized in urban land and extracted in commercial and residential rents. The same systems also serve the social reproductive needs of city residents and open up access to non-productive uses of the city. Transit planning, governance and reinvestments in the neoliberal period have come to emphasize the productive over the consumption-oriented nature of the service, urbanization and competitive city building, and an ideological conceptualization of the rider as customer rather than citizen.

In New York City, a business consensus on the importance of reinvestment in transit to competitive city building began to form in the wake of the city's fiscal crisis. A widely-cited 1976 monograph on The Exodus of Corporate Headquarters from New York City highlighted inadequate transit as among the three most commonly stated reasons given by Fortune 500 companies for leaving the city (Quante, 1976). A 1978 Polytechnic Institute of New York study concluded that "the shortcomings of the existing system were matters of serious concern to the business community", and in particular the hotel and convention industry on which the city was, in part, pinning its hopes for economic recovery (Polytechnic Institute of New York, 1978). A 1981 study published in the New York Federal Reserve Bank's Quarterly Review was the first attempt to calculate the cost of transit breakdown to city employers--$333 million annually, equivalent to 40 percent of the city's corporate income tax revenues (Chall, 1981: 13). The study warned that deteriorating commuting infrastructure would raise the labour costs of Manhattan-centered employers and reduce the available pool of skilled workers, as viable commuting distances

were reduced by transit failure and the increased street congestion that poor transit service induced. It concluded that pro-investment public policies in the region would be undermined if transit deterioration were not reversed (14). A 1978 Department of City Planning document specifically targeted the welfare-orientation of the transit system as an impediment to be overcome:

The most profound problem in raising the funds necessary to upgrade public transportation has been a lack of clarity as to be role of the transit system. In the absence of a vision of a rebuilt public transportation system, the present condition of the system conveys a mistaken message that transit is a second class means of transportation whose improvement would be popular but uneconomic. This misconception, in turn, deprives transit of the funds and priority necessary for a refurbishment (NYCDCP, 1978: 3).

"Improving transit," the report continued, "is one of the most significant and direct actions that government can take to attract business to the city." Finally, in one of the earliest formulations of the global city strategy, the Twentieth Century Fund Task Force on the Future of New York City's final report, New York: World City (1980), promoted transit investment and solutions to congestion as the two uppermost priorities in making Manhattan globally competitive.

This new vision of the economic importance of the transit system was given political traction in Albany thanks to the effective coalition work and lobbying efforts of Richard Ravitch, a real estate developer appointed chairman of the MTA in 1979 with a mandate to revitalize the city's transit system. Ravitch prepared an estimate of the MTA2s capital requirements to bring the system back to a state of good repair, determined to be $14 Billion dollars [32 Billion in 2009 dollars] over a period often years, and developed a political strategy to secure the financing from all three levels of government. City, State and Federal contributions to the capital budget were significantly increased but would not be sufficient. The balance of funding was secured by the novel issuance of fare-backed bonds, a controversial decision among transit advocates given the pressures that bond covenants and debt charges would inevitably exert on the fare, but which were enthusiastically taken up on Wall Street--MTA bonds are triple-tax exempt, and the agency was considered too big to fail (Lardner, 1984). A coalition of real estate firms and large corporations headquartered in the city was formed to secure the legislation in Albany, and a parade of CEOs testified to the importance of the measures to the city's economy in committee hearings. Nelson Rockefeller of Chase Manhattan Bank was treated to a predawn, police-escorted tour of the dilapidated subways so as to better impress upon state legislators the seriousness of the situation. Transit advocacy groups and labour lobbied as well, but in the recollection of one participant, the "real power were the business moguls." (1)

With the immediate transit crisis addressed, state and city contributions to the MTA's capital budget subsequently dropped off, to be substituted by reliance on the bond market. From 20 percent of capital spending during the first five year plan (1982-86), state contributions declined to 11 percent during the second capital plan (1987-91), and to nearly zero between 1992 and 2005. City contributions declined from 10 percent of the total in 1982-99 to less than 3 percent since 2000. (2) Federal subsidies have remained relatively constant. As capital spending at the MTA increased over these years, from $8.7 billion in the first five-year plan to $21 billion in the 2005-2009 plan, debt issuance grew from a third of total spending to 45 percent. As a result, the MTA now holds $25.5 billion in debt, at an average rate of 5.5 percent interest on 30 year terms. Debt servicing represents, by a significant margin, the fastest growing expense at the agency, increasing by an average of 12 percent a year between 1982 and 2009. In 2010, the MTA paid out $1.9 billion in interest to bond holders, a figure that is projected to grow to $2.4 billion by 2013. (3)

In their public campaign to limit pensions, health benefits and wage settlements paid to transit workers, MTA management and business think tanks in the city, from the Citizens Budget Commission to the Manhattan Institute, have argued that labour costs are imposing a strain on both the operations budget and the capital budget, putting pressure on the fare and limiting service expansion and improvements. As transit advocates, union representatives and bond rating agencies have recognized, the trade-off can just as reasonably be seen in opposite terms: increasing debt charges on the capital account are impinging on the operations budget, putting pressures on both labour costs and the fare. In the first two five year plans (1982-91), bringing the system back to a state of good repair claimed 69 percent of the capital budget. In the last two five year plans (2000-04, 2005-09), the MTA has spent twice as much on system expansion and system improvement as it has on state of good repair. Governor Pataki launched four massive expansion projects during his tenure in office (Second Avenue Subway, Fulton Street Transit Center, East Side Access, the 7 line extension) even as his retrenchment of state subsidies forced the MTA deeper into debt.

There are specific class contradictions that result from the use of the MTA as an economic development tool to leverage real estate development throughout the region, and in Manhattan's central business districts in particular. Because the capital program has not been properly funded through the state's general taxation revenues the cost of the revitalization will fall on the riders through ever escalating fares. In years of fiscal austerity, furthermore, service cutbacks disproportionately affect poorer residents in the inner-suburbs who are already ill-served by a transit system which privileges the global-city workforce and heavy rail development. Within the sphere of production, transit workers are subject to increased discipline at work and pressured to accept concessionary contracts while their labour sustains ever-rising real estate values and builds a city that concentrates wealth in ever fewer hands. In striking the transit system in 2005, transit workers exercised a collective agency over the production of the global city that gave a powerful expression to the latter contradiction.

In Toronto, by contrast, relatively high levels of public investment in mass transit would play a central role in the spatial restructuring of the city throughout the postwar period. From the 1950s to the 1980s, significant expansions in the city's transit infrastructure were pushed forward by corporate and real estate interests as a means of building up commercial office complexes in the context of strong centrifugal Fordist growth tendencies associated with extensive suburbanization and automobility. The subway building program in particular confirmed downtown Toronto as the administrative, business and financial centre of the urban region as Toronto was set to overtake Montreal as the centre of Canadian capitalism.

As the quasi-autonomous Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) was slowly incorporated into the fields of municipal, metro and provincial politics, it became an arena for promoting and resolving divergent city-building projects across a rapidly urbanizing Metropolitan Toronto. With capital budget subsidies channelled through Metro came increased oversight, helping to foster an institutional capacity for coordinating transit expansion with the land use strategies developed by the newly formed Metropolitan Toronto Planning Board (MTPB) (Frisken, 1991). The Metropolitan Toronto Transportation Plan Review of 1971-75 proposed a series of subway extensions and a new east-west line to encourage the decentralization of the central business district to other centres in metro Toronto. Toronto's 1981 Official Plan envisioned raising density limits and channeling public investments into these centres so as to provide a transit-oriented alternative to low-density suburban office parks and fix commercial office space within the city (Filion, 2007: 14).

In political terms, Toronto's multi-nodal development strategy expressed a 'territorial compromise' (Schmid, 1998) between city and suburban growth interests. In redirecting development pressures to regional sub-centres, the strategy also registered the opposition of the downtown reform movement to the commercial intensification of the core. The city of Toronto would retain its status as the region's primary employment centre and command the highest commercial rents through access to an enlarged commuter shed, while the suburban municipalities could pursue their own commercial intensification. Drawn by the success of downtown Toronto's booming service-sector economy and compelled to develop new growth strategies by the shift of industrial development to the ex-urban periphery, entrepreneurial suburban councils allied with growth interests jockeyed with one another for provincial investments in their respective 'transit hubs' (Todd, 1993). This pro-developer, exchange-value orientation of public transit expansion helped to shape a hierarchical, multinodal urban form suited to the differential locational needs of large corporate employers for both central locations and a variety of siting options for lower-rent back-office operations in the region (Ibid).

A decade of underinvestment in public transit, resulting from fiscal austerity imposed by provincial governments in the 1990s, is currently being reversed with significant new funding for subway extension and light rail projects. Under Mayor David Miller (2003-2010) the city aggressively sought provincial funding for light rail projects and pursued moderate efforts to increase off-peak and inner-suburban bus service. Ridership and service levels on the TTC began to recover along with employment levels in the late 1990s, and by the end of Miller's second term TTC service and ridership levels had both much exceeded their peak 1988 levels (Brent, 2009). The McGuinty Liberal government recommitted the province to transit expansion projects with new capital spending throughout the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area with $1.1 billion in funding in the 2006 budget, followed by $17.5 billion in funding commitments in 2007.

The province has not recommitted to stable funding of TTC operations, however, and currently contributes nothing to the TTC's operations budget. The city's current annual contribution of $430 million, representing approximately 30 percent of the TTC'S operations budget, weighs heavily on the property tax base of the city and other spending priorities. In addition, the city covers half of the TTC's $900 million annual capital budget through issuance of new debt--a level that is slated to decline to meet debt ceiling limits. In comparison with New York, the TTC is significantly less subsidized by government spending and significantly more reliant on the fare to cover operations costs. In New York, operating revenues cover 54 percent of expenses, in Toronto, 70 percent (City of Toronto, 2011: 16). Echoing the positions of the New York City Planning Department cited above, the TTC is unapologetic in downplaying any social role for transit planning, arguing that "transit fares, and price sensitivity, are rarely the reasons why people do not chose transit over other modes ... [and] while the cost of travel may be a very significant issue to some of these [transit-dependent] people, it is beyond the mandate of the TTC to effectively resolve broader social and community issues related to income distribution and welfare" (Ibid).

The performance of Toronto's mobility infrastructure is carefully gauged in relation to its competitors. A cascade of reports, scorecards and ranking tables have been issued as a part of the lobbying and policy making process to commit higher levels of government to billions of dollars in investment in the region. In a major report on economic challenges in the GTA, TD Economics notes that "gridlock on GTA roads and highways threatens the effectiveness of public transit, cuts into productivity, and limits the pace at which the GTA'S exports to the United States and the rest of Canada can grow" (TD Economics, 2002: ii). A more recent 'scorecard' on the GTA economy ranks Toronto last among 19 peer cities in commute times (Toronto Board of Trade, 2011: 11). Average commuting times in Toronto increased from 68 minutes in 1992 to 82 minutes in 2008, and are projected to grow to 109 minutes by 2031 in the absence of major infrastructure development. In the words of a Toronto Board of Trade submission to Metrolinx: "A strong, well-coordinated regional transportation system is a necessity and is critical to the region's competitiveness. The present transportation system is inadequate and uncoordinated. For a number of years, Board of Trade members have cited gridlock and congestion as one of their top three concerns" (Toronto Board of Trade, 2008: 6). A study conducted by consultants on behalf of Transport Canada (2006) found congestion costs the Toronto CMA between $890 million and $1.6 billion, 90 percent of which was accounted for by time lost to drivers stuck in traffic. In its Territorial Review of Toronto, the OECD (2009) estimated a figure of $2.7 billion in reduced economic output across the GTHA and highlighted worsening congestion as a major drag on regional productivity and the leading challenge to the Toronto's global competitiveness.

The mobility gaps that are opening up in neoliberal Toronto can also be conceived from the point of view of unequal access to transit service. Hulchanski's (2010) analysis measuring transit access by mode and frequency of service shows that the downtown core, in which income levels have increased by 20 percent or more over the past thirty years, is two- and sometimes three-times better connected than inner-suburban areas of the city that have seen income declines of similar magnitude over the same period (Martin Prosperity Institute, 2010). As in New York, service cutbacks resulting from cuts to the operations budget in the current recession disproportionately affect inner suburban areas which are more reliant on lower-order transit service.

Transit Strikes

New York (2005)

Late in the evening of December 19th, 2005, TWU Local 100 President Roger Toussaint broke off final negotiations with the MTA to take his members out on the city's first public sector strike in a generation. The immediate trigger of the 2005 strike was management's demand that transit workers accept a lower pension tier for new hires. Local president Roger Toussaint had been elected to office in December, 2000 on an insurgent slate backed by a dissident caucus that had formed in the mid-1980s to carry on a struggle within the Local to democratize the union and stake out a more militant posture with management. In electing Toussaint, members signaled their willingness to walk out and expected a strike to be called (Downs, 2008). Local 100 had threatened to strike in 1999 and again under Toussaint's leadership in 2002, both times backing down. Given the militancy of a membership chaffing under a highly stressed form of labour control, it is unlikely that Toussaint could have secured passage of a contract in 2005 without at least a brief work stoppage. (4) The leadership made no strike preparations--i.e. assignation of picket line duties, financial planning for strike pay or fines, or solicitation of labour movement or community support-reflecting their estimation that any strike would be short and quickly repressed. From the members' perspective, the strike was as much about winning back dignity and respect from a management and political regime perceived as hostile and disdainful. The slogans under which the union walked--"Respect", "Defend the Unborn" [future transit workers, 'reborn' as TWU Local 100 members] and "Second Class No More" [referring to better working conditions on the regional commuter railroads]--reflected these motivations.

In the wake of the 2001 recession business associations and think tanks launched campaigns to retrench pensions throughout the New York City public sector, laying particular emphasis on the growing gap between public and private sector pension coverage and benefit levels. City unions have agreed in the past to lower tiers for new hires, and it was not expected that the TWU in particular would be ideologically opposed to the measure or that the existing membership would object. Restructuring the transit workers' retirement benefits was to have set the precedent for subsequent negotiations with the less militant and less powerful non-uniformed city workers. The MTA came under strong pressure from both Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki to secure pension concessions from the TWU in the 2005 round of bargaining. To begin with the city's most militant union was a risky strategy that proved, in retrospect, an overreach.

The strike lasted approximately two and half days, or 60 hours. It effectively shut down three critical components of the regional transit system: the New York City Subway system, with a daily ridership of nearly 5 million, the New York City Bus system with a ridership of 2.5 million, and MTA Bus, with 400,000 daily riders. This left private vehicular traffic and the regional commuter rail lines to pick up the majority of shortfall in commuting capacity. Building on lessons learned during the 1966 and 1980 transit strikes, the New York City Department of Transportation developed a strike contingency plan in the weeks leading up to the contract deadline that sought to leverage as much mobility as possible. For its part, the MTA ran more trains stopping at more inner-city stations on the Long Island and Metro North railroads. (Local 100 did not take up an invitation by Metro North workers to picket their workplaces north of the city.) This represents a much more sophisticated and effective effort at mitigating the impact of a transit strike than was seen in 1980, and especially 1966 (NYCDOT, 2006). But no traffic management contingency plan could substitute for the withdrawal of a commuting infrastructure upon which the city was so overwhehningly dependent.

The economic cost to urban economies of the withdrawal of transit service can be broken down into three components: lost work time, lost consumer activity, and the cost to the city treasury in foregone tax revenues and overtime wage costs. There are no widely accepted models for accounting the cost of a transit strike, and it should be acknowledged that estimates produced during work stoppages can reflect political as much as economic calculations. The New York Economic Development Council (EDC), a private sector organization under contract to the mayor's office, estimated the daily cost of the shutdown at between $440 and $660 million, for a total ranging between $1.3 and $2 billion for the duration of the strike. The daily figures were quoted by the Mayor, reprinted by most news agencies, and cited in the city's court filings against the union. The City Comptroller's office, held by a Democratic opponent of the Mayor, estimated a cost of $400 million for the first day, and declining to $300 on each of the subsequent two workdays, for a total of $1 billion. The value of the lost work time was subtracted from the city's daily gross product and estimated declines in consumer spending activity were then added to arrive at a rough total of lost economic activity. Still, this lower figure represents double the widely accepted per day cost of the 1980 transit strike. The impact of the strike to the city's treasury was easier to compute, estimated by the EDC at $22 million per day in lost tax revenue ($8-12 million) and police overtime ($10 million). The Bond Buyer, a Wall Street daily specializing in public finance, suggested that a strike lasting longer than one week would begin to affect the credit of the highly leveraged city (Cataldo, 2005). By any accounting, this was a formidable display of transit workers' economic power. Transit workers disrupted the economy of the world's business and financial centre and understood the effect of their action in these terms (Downs, 2008).

Government response to the strike foregrounded a legal strategy: New York State Law categorically bans public sector strikes. Acting on behalf of the MTA, State District Attorney Eliot Spitzer sought an injunction against the union on December 13th, 2005, two days prior to contract expiry. The injunction enjoined TWU leaders from calling or endorsing a strike and required that the union communicate its disavowal of workplace action to the membership. The union was found in contempt of this injunction on December 20th, with legal penalties imposed consistent with the full extent of the law.

The city complemented its legal strategy with a campaign for public opinion that sought to mobilize the full range of racial, status, and private sector/public sector divisions within the city's working class. Mayor Bloomberg characterized the strike action of the mostly black and Latino transit workers as "thuggish", equivalent to a "hijacking" of the city. This veiled cue to racist sentiment and terrorist threats was made explicit by the Murdoch press. The New York Post called for the union leadership to be jailed, referred to striking transit workers as "rats" and compared them to Al Qaeda. "The terrorists made it their mission to kill the economy," wrote NY Post columnist Andrea Peyser (2005). "This brand of homegrown enemy pretends to have the city's interest at heart, while it takes aim at the most vulnerable workers." The New York Sun's editorial described the strike as "a blatantly illegal act of economic sabotage by a union so selfish that it is willing to destroy one of the most important business weeks in the city in a last-ditch attempt to preserve privileges that most private sector employees can only dream of" (NY Sun, 2005).

Two major polls gauged public reaction to the strike. According to an AM New York Poll conducted one day prior to the strike, 68 percent of respondents favoured the MTA while 32 percent favoured the union when given a choice between one or the other. One day into the strike, a NY1 News poll found that 41 percent of New Yorkers blamed both sides, while 27 percent solely faulted the MTA and 25 percent blamed the union. A majority 54 percent of New Yorkers thought that the union's demands were fair while 36 percent did not. The NY1 poll found a significant racial divide in respondents' level of support for the union. While 38 percent of white New Yorkers thought the union's demands were fair, 75 percent of black and Latino respondents thought that the union's position was justified. Only 12 percent of black respondents faulted the union for the disruption; white respondents were three times more likely to do so (NY1, 2005). These results speak to the immediacy with which the transit strike politicized racial and class divisions within the city. They suggest a surprising level of popular support for the strike even in the absence of an effective political and community outreach strategy on the part of the union.

The strike threw the city's labour movement into crisis. It raised considerable enthusiasm among rank and file members but made most trade union leaders in the city "uneasy." (5) In the final days of negotiations, the president of the Central Labour Council and the leader of the teachers' union descended on the hotel where negotiations were taking place to pressure both sides to keep on talking. Public sector union leaders lent rhetorical support to the union's resistance to the MTA's pension demands, but no trade union leader in the city expressed public support for the strike itself. In the second day of the walkout, the labour council organized a phone conference with the TWU executive and 40 other union leaders in the city. Toussaint asked for concrete solidarity, including sympathy job actions: "I told them I was not looking for someone to hold my coat. I was looking for leaders who would take off their coats and step into the ring. I did not see a lot of coats come off." Indeed, the phone call was intended to put pressure on Toussaint to call off the strike. Reflecting on the strike five years later, Toussaint was reluctant to criticize the labour movement for what to him could only have been a disappointing response: "In general, it reflected a decline in the old principles of solidarity." A trade union leader who took part in the conference call suggested more pointedly that there was some satisfaction among the city's labour leadership that a union perceived to be recklessly militant was dealt with so severely for challenging the legal framework within which routine public sector bargaining takes place. (6)

An analysis of the effectiveness of the legal disciplining of the TWU in this instance must take into account the broader political and historical context of the declining militancy and political power of the city's labour movement. The legal penalties were certainly very costly to the union. The Local itself was fined $2.5 million and its automatic dues deduction was revoked indefinitely, Toussaint served three days of a ten day jail sentence, and members lost six days' pay. The first two measures struck powerful blows at the union's treasury and were instrumental in the leadership's decision to call off the strike. The union's automatic dues collection was reinstated by the courts in October 2008 only after Toussaint submitted a humiliating affidavit, just prior to the contract negotiations of that year, asserting that the union "does not assert the right to strike against any government" and that the union "has no intention, now or in the future" of conducting or threatening a strike against the transit agency.

Toronto (2008)

Transit strikes are a more frequent occurrence in Toronto. The 2008 strike was the third such action under Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113's current President Bob Kinnear. Kinnear won election in December 2003 against a slate supported by the entirety of the union's executive board, backed by a membership unhappy with an incumbent leadership perceived as overly compliant. As in New York, a stressed form of management discipline involving the liberal application of citations for minor infractions was stoking worker resentment. An accumulation of grievances not being acted upon gave the impression that management was not respecting the union, while increasing transit service and ridership levels underscored the value that transit workers performed.

An indication that Toronto transit workers looked to a more militant union position under Kinnear's leadership came early in his administration in the form of a wildcat strike by 600 maintenance workers lasting a day and a half at the Duncan and Harvey Shops, the TTC's main maintenance facilities at the Hillcrest Yards. The action was initiated by the membership and was put a stop to by the union leadership after the issuance of an Ontario Labor Relations Board (ORLB) injunction. The strike did not affect the commute and received no mention in the city press. A second wildcat strike in 2006 resulted from a mid-contract dispute over work rescheduling. When on Sunday May 28th management proceeded with the assignation of a new shift without the union's consent, maintenance workers refused to show up for their new shifts. By midnight, pickets had been established at all nine of the TTC's operational divisions throughout the city. In the early morning of May 29th, bus drivers were told by the local to show up for work but not to cross the maintenance workers' picket lines. At 4:30am, only 7 of the usual 1300 buses were serving their routes, effectively disrupting the Monday morning commute. Management responded by shutting down the entire system. Legal proceedings were initiated immediately and Kinnear ordered his members to return to work at 3pm that afternoon without having gained concessions on scheduling. The last, "rogue" pickets at Wilson yards were taken down with the presence of police at 8pm. (7)

The 2005 transit contract came up for renegotiation in February 2008. On March 12th, transit workers voted overwhelmingly to reject the TTC's final offer: a contract which proposed a sub-par wage settlement, rejected union demands for improved benefits and opened a second tier for new hires. The union executive spent the following month in negotiations with a strong mandate to walk out if the contract expired on April 1st without a new agreement. The bargaining committee reached a tentative contract on Sunday, April 20th, narrowly averting a Monday morning strike. Kinnear presented this as a no-concession contract and recommended ratification without, however, having secured the full support of the executive committee.

Wage gains in the new contract were in line with other union settlements, operators were given full pay when off work due to workplace-related injuries (up from 85 percent), other benefits were topped up and skilled trades received wage premiums. Management withdrew its two-tier demand. The contract included a novel mechanism, the "GTA clause" which would ensure that TTC drivers would be the best paid in the Greater Toronto Area. TTC maintenance workers--the most heavily disciplined and militant section of the membership--were not included in the GTA clause. Some of the language was sufficiently unclear on contracting out and seniority to raise concerns among maintenance workers and operators in the transportation division, particularly since a new bus order included a warranty agreement with the supplier that might see a decline in in-house work. Bargaining committee members based in the maintenance division who are hostile to Kinnear's leadership highlighted this lack of clarity. They campaigned against ratification. The tentative contract was put to the membership on Friday, April 25th and voted down by a significant majority. It was solidly rejected by maintenance and by approximately half of transportation division members, who voted both out of solidarity with maintenance and out of their own concerns relating to seniority. Kinnear defended the tentative agreement and put the blame for the results of the ratification vote on political jockeying within the executive and a campaign of misinformation. (8) The union had told the public that 48 hours' notice would be given of a strike. However, after the results of the ratification election were made known, transit operators were notified by voice mail and through workplace intercoms that the transit system would be shut down at midnight (Kalinowski and Javed, 2008). The transit system was brought to a stop and remained shut down until early Sunday evening. There was no union picketing of work sites.

Calling the strike immediately may have saved some workers from rider abuse--the union's stated reason for the lack of notice. More pertinently, it also gave the provincial legislature the full weekend to pass back-to-work legislation before the action would have its greatest impact, beginning with the Monday morning commute. In public Kinnear defended the strike; within the union he opposed it. In discussions with the Ontario NDP, Kinnear made it known that if the party defended the strike against back-to-work legislation and delayed the measure until parliament reopened on Monday, they would have to justify this position to the public alone, without his support. He instructed the party to agree to an emergency session of parliament to pass the required legislation. (9) This occasioned a degree of consternation on the left of the party while it was likely received with relief on the right and members with Toronto ridings. It would not be the first time that the NDP supported back-to-work legislation, but it would be the first time that it had agreed to an emergency session for this purpose. Toronto and York District Labour Council issued a short, one-paragraph statement defending transit workers' right to strike posted to its website for little over a day. Labour leaders in the city were confused by the course of events and, in private, highly critical of Kinnear's leadership.

Although the 2008 strike was legal, there was little doubt that the action would be declared illegal through exception legislation. The province has used, or threatened to use, back to work legislation to end strikes or work-to-rule campaigns in 1974, 1975, 1978, 1984, 1986, 1989 and 1991. Over this period, recourse to legislation has come more quickly. The province waited 18 days to initiate legislation in the 1974 strike but waited only two days in 1978. The 1984 back-to-work order was pre-emptive, enjoining transit workers from striking during the Pope's visit with provisions made for fines levied against individual workers of $1,000 a day for violating the law. In 2008, the city requested provincial back-to-work legislation within hours of the strike.

The McGuinty provincial government convened an emergency session at 1:30 on Sunday afternoon and by 2:00 pm the bill had passed three readings. The legislative debate of Bill 66, Toronto Public Transit Service Resumption Act, followed the script of all such legislation in Ontario. Every speaker expressed their faith in collective bargaining while emphasizing the exceptionality of the present circumstances. In presenting the bill, Labour Minister Brad Duguid spoke of the TTC as the "backbone, the lifeblood" of Toronto, itself the "engine of the economy of both Ontario and Canada" (Hansard, 2008). The increased traffic caused by a strike would not only inconvenience drivers, it "will also translate into higher pollution levels, with the related health effects and impact on our environment." As the minister defended routine collective bargaining, including the implicit right to strike, he made a distinction with respect to transit in Toronto. "[W]e cannot stand by while the dispute shuts down this vital transportation system in Toronto, affecting millions of people and businesses. It would be irresponsible for us in this Legislature to allow the TTC to remain closed and ignore the fact that almost 1.5 million riders a day depend on it to go to work, to get to school, to conduct business, to attend medical appointments and to enjoy what this city has to offer" (Ibid.). The preamble made reference to the question of essential service by stating that "[t]he continuation of these disputes and the resulting disruption of transit services give rise to serious public safety, environmental, health, and economic consequences for residents of the City of Toronto" even as it presented the bill as an "exceptional and temporary solution" (Ibid.). According to figures produced by the city's Economic Development, Culture and Tourism Division (EDCT), a transit strike costs the city's economy $50 million a day in lost output, a figure arrived at by conjecturing a 10 percent reduction in the city's daily product resulting from increased levels of congestion. The EDCT further conjectures "long-term negative impacts on the City's image as a business location and a tourism destination" (City of Toronto, 2008: 7). There was no polling of city residents on their views on the strike and little reason to doubt municipal and provincial politicians' own estimations that repressing the strike would prove popular. (10)

There is little debate that the labour transit workers perform in Toronto is essential to everyday life. Insofar as transit strikes are a problem for everyday life, however, transit strikes would have to be classified near the bottom of a list of such problems besetting the transit rider, after time lost due to government cutbacks to operating subsidies, inadequate service expansion in rapidly urbanizing areas, equipment breakdown, maintenance repairs, accidents and customer incidents. "Everybody is a victim of the failure of governments to properly fund transit," the union pointedly notes, "but somehow, because of [the] 0.01 percent of service loss due to work action, the union is now the problem" (ATU Local 113, 2010).

As mass transit becomes ever more important in organizing the commute in the metropolitan region and leveraging urban development, the labour that transit workers perform has become more valuable. The irony is that instead of becoming more highly valued as a result, transit workers face ever greater discipline from all sides, including from their own union leadership which, in anticipating external legal discipline directs it back onto the membership, and from a labour-backed party that cannot articulate the workplace interests of its constituents. When in 2010 Toronto City Council voted in favour of recommending that the province permanently remove transit workers' right to strike, debate turned solely on the costs that would be incurred in terms of higher arbitrated awards. The provincial bill removing transit workers' right to strike in Toronto lists several criteria arbitrators may consider in awarding settlements, including the municipality's ability to pay, and not including the ability of transit workers to meet their needs or defend their rights at work.

Essential service legislation could have raised the question of what it means for public transit to be an essential service in Toronto. Police, emergency medical, and firefighting services are deemed essential because they are necessary to the preservation of public safety and are therefore provided free of charge to the recipient at the point of delivery. Transit systems cannot with consistency be declared essential in labour relations while treated in budget allocations as if they performed a largely private good to the rider. For the union, the challenge is a strategic one, to reframe what the problem is and what the solutions are.

Towards an Urban Strategy for Labour

Both transit strikes were militant acts by a powerful section of the respective city's labour movements. If this were simply a question of transit workers' exercising their structural power over the production of the global city, and the strikes were pursued to negotiated conclusions, they would have resulted in different terms. Crucially, they would also have been high-profile examples of the power that still resides in the collective withdrawal of labour power in a spatially restructured political economy. As it was, the cases do reveal the important finding that organized workers engaged in urban production wield enormous economic power, and that they do so as a result of the importance to competitive city building of capital fixity in the built environment.

From a geographical perspective, concerned with the ways in which working class agency is bound up the production of space, the dilemma that transit unions confront can be understood as a disjuncture between the urban basis of their bargaining leverage and the absence of an urban strategy required to defend the bargaining relationship itself. That both strikes were defeated was all but assured by the absence of a strategy on the part of the striking unions that could have articulated and enacted the interests of transit workers with the those of working class riders in improved service and increased public subsidy. Because the unions are outmaneuvered at the political level, the economic militancy of the membership has only served to ratchet up the discipline to which they are subject. The dilemma does not result from a lack of militancy or agency, but the one-sided expression of a militant agency that remains trapped within the sphere of the workplace and confined to the traditional repertoires of business unionism. This is a form of working class spatial agency that is truncated and self-limiting, inadequate to confronting the challenges facing trade unionism in the current conjuncture.

The point here is not to question the need public sector workers have of availing themselves of the strike--there can be no collective bargaining without the effective capacity to withdraw consent at work--but to question the continued relevance of traditional workplace strikes in achieving their intended aims. In particular, public sector strikes do not address the underfinancing affecting service providers and recipients alike and do not recognize the political dilemmas of public sector work stoppages, dilemmas which have been sharpened by declining private sector unionization and rising user fees for public services. Crucially, traditional strikes do not make public sector unions pivots of resistance to austerity and the unevenness and under-provisioning of public goods. Strikes in the public sector inevitably become political, but in a direction that unions do not control and which are not consistent with public deliberation over the common good.

An urban strategy for transit unions would politicize the inequalities of access to services which ought to be provided as a right to all citizens but which instead systematically discriminate according to class, gender and racial positions in urban space. Front line workers hold considerable concrete knowledge about how this unevenness is produced through the organization of the work, but tend to consider it above their pay grade and outside their job descriptions to be concerned about the matter. Unions should mobilize this knowledge in alliance with transit justice organizations that bring their own understandings of service gaps from the point of view of the user. Transit unions could do much to sever negative interactions with the public by taking responsibility for the organization and planning of the system in the interests of the vast majority of riders.

The series of town halls organized in Toronto by ATU Local 113 in the spring of 2010 hints at the contours of an affective urban strategy. The town halls--in which community members were invited to air grievances and ask questions of front line transit workers--were organized in reaction to a series of press stories about negative interactions between transit riders and front line workers in the run up to the municipal election in which several mayoral candidates floated the idea of privatizing the TTC. In recognition of the unjust geographies of mobility in the city, two of the meetings were held in the transit-deficient inner suburbs. As the union leadership expected would be the case, most of the grievances raised at these meetings related not to negative interactions with transit operators but to delays, inadequate suburban service levels, overcrowding and miserable commutes at off-peak periods. Responses to these issues from the front line workers sought to dispel riders' overestimation of the discretionary authority of operators and the power of the union in the organization of the labour process, and related service deficiencies to government underfunding. Many community members came to the meetings with the expectation that the union did or could play a role in the planning and organization of the system. Instead, the union took a defensive, traditional position on the role of trade unions. It argued that planning and organization were the responsibilities of management, and funding the responsibility of governments beholden to voters. (11)

The town halls performed well in channeling public disaffection with the transit system from personal interactions at the point of delivery to their more productive expression in the political sphere. They provided an interactive if not deliberative space that effectively communicated to riders the reasons why services are delivered the way they are. The meetings were also effective in impressing on the membership the political importance the union attaches to public service--a subsidiary motivation behind the meetings.

The limitation of the town halls was that, instead of building an alternative source of power greater than the sum of riders and workers acting in their assigned roles, each group declaimed responsibility and power. The riders stood up and complained about the system, expecting that the workers would be able to resolve the problem. The workers explained that they have very little control and told the riders to return to the ballot box. Clearly, transit riders should advance their interests in the electoral process. But it should be equally clear that this has not been adequate to addressing the problem of ever-rising fares for inadequate service. The union should take the further step of establishing with their community allies community planning boards that could close 'information gaps' (Albo, 1993) between planners, front line workers and end users and take the initiative in the planning process, lust spaces cannot be produced but through a re-distribution and de-centralization of planning and political capacities. Even if the interests of service producers and recipients are not identical, a common planning framework could emerge from a properly deliberative forum. The absence of democratic planning capacities currently cedes the terrain to growth interests and the 'business principles' of the transit agencies.

Front line transit workers have more power over the production of mobility than was recognized in these town halls. This was effectively demonstrated in the two strikes discussed above. The strategic question remains of how to use this power in ways that are not instrumentalized in furtherance of neoliberal solutions but lead instead to challenging the production of unjust spaces. To be effective, any correspondence between the interests of public sector workers and public service recipients, between the public sector and the broader class, must be demonstrated concretely in union practice (Hurley and Gindin, 2011). For example, the strike should be re-imagined as a tactic within a strategy that articulates the workplace needs of transit workers with the social reproductive needs of the city's transit dependent working class. In transit systems which rely heavily for operating revenues on farebox recovery, management relies on front line workers collecting the fare. The need to elicit consent of transit operators at work and to maintain cooperative relations with the union leadership lead transit management to take a strong position against essential work legislation. This cooperation could be withdrawn in the context of difficult contract negotiations. Instead of withdrawing labour power, the union could call on members to not collect fares on days of protest, notifying the public beforehand of free fare weekends and escalating from there to the weekday commute. The source of the union's leverage in this strategy would shift, from disrupting the commute and putting pressure on politicians by inconveniencing the public, to applying financial pressure directly on management and the commission.

The strategic dilemmas facing transit workers are not unique in the current landscape of organized labour in North America, and the future of public sector trade unionism in particular is very much in doubt. With de-industrialization having undone the traditional strongholds of the North American labour movement, what remains of organized labour will be found in sectors of the economy with strong agglomeration economies or which are directly involved with the production of place, the production and the reproduction of urban life. Henri Lefebvre's enigmatic argument in 1968 that urbanization was overtaking industrialization as a means of capital accumulation appears increasingly prescient. As the labour movement pivots to represent workers involved in urban production, it will become more important for labour activists to conceive of their institutions as geographical actors and to consider the social nature of the spaces that are being produced. An urbanization of trade union consciousness could yet prove the gestalt switch required to break with the impasse of current labour strategy.

Appendix A: Interviews

Blakeley, Scott Human Resources Director, TTC
Bonadies, Sandro Track and Structures worker, Local
113 shop steward
Giambrone, Adam Chair, TTC
Gunn, David Former President, TTC, NYC Transit
Kinnear, Bob President, ATU Local 113
Malta, Frank ATU Local 113 shop steward
Mihevc, Joe Vice-Chair, TTC
Moscoe, Howard Former Chair, TTC
Rapapport, David Transit activist
Vacarro, Tony ATU Local 113 shop steward

New York City

Brown, Norman Board Member representing Labour, MTA
Brecher, Charles Research Director, Citizens' Budget
Downs, Steve Subway conductor, TWU Local 100 activist
Fitch, Robert Author and academic, NYU
Frasca, Doreen Board Member, MTA
Gelinas, Nicole Policy Analyst, Manhattan Institute
Henderson, William Executive Director, Permanent Citizens'
Advisory Committee, MTA
Holland, Marvin Subway custodian, TWU Local 100 activist
Nicolau, George Arbitrator, transit contract
Ott, Ed Former President, New York City Labor Council
Petro, John Policy Analyst, Urban Affairs, Drum Major
Toussaint, Roger Former President, TWU Local 100
Rivera, Israel Bus driver, activist TWU Local 100
Russianoff, Gene Staff Attorney, Straphangers
Watt, Ed Vice President, TWU Local 100
Yaro, Robert President, Regional Plan Association


This research was funded by a SSHRC postdoctoral award and was made possible by the institutional support of Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations in New York City. I would like to thank Greg Albo, Leo Panitch, Stefan Kipfer, and the reviewers of this Journal for their insightful comments on earlier drafts.


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Ian Thomas MacDonald

School of Industrial and Labor Relations

Cornell University


(1) Author interview with Gene Russianoff, staff attorney, NY Straphangers, September 30, 2009.

(2) Excepting the city's contribution to the 7 line extension, paid for by city-issued debt.

(3) Figures from MTA budget documents, available at mta/budget/.

(4) In the year preceding the 2005 negotiations, an astonishing 15,000 citations were issued to a combined TWU membership of 32,000, most for very minor infractions.

(5) Author interview with Toussaint, October 29, 2009.

(6) The comment was made in interview with the author, but not for attribution. City unions ultimately contributed $250,000 to pay the Local's fines.

(7) The union refers to this action as a 'lock out' and has subsequently won an ORLB ruling to this affect.

(8) In interview with Bob Kinnear, October 7, 2011.

(9) In interview with Bob Kinnear, October 7, 2011.

(10) In defending his actions during the 2006 wildcat strike, then TTC chair Adam Giambrone referred to his media appearance on the day as "the easiest media event of my career." In interview with Adam Giambrone, March 18, 2007.

(11) One operator told the assembly that "your voice is what counts. We can give suggestions. You have to talk to your MPs. I'm just here to get you where you are going. Your voice has to be heard, that's all I can say." The point was reiterated by another driver: "Your voice carries a lot more change. I can sit on a bus with no air conditioning in July and it's 'too bad, drive the bus'. But if riders complain, that bus is changed. Your voice multiplies five times ours." Another again: "your voice goes 100 percent further than ours does. It is a team effort here. It is important that you guys step up" Author's notes from the "Let's Talk" Downsview meeting. April 12, 2010.
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