Source: BillyCabic/Flickr

While workers and riders of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) continue to face a rising cost of living, and transit services are continuously eroded, the bosses at the TTC are receiving massive pay increases.

On Wednesday, March 30 the annual Ontario Public Sector Salary Disclosure (also known as the Sunshine List), revealed a swath of public sector CEO salaries and benefits. While most on the Sunshine List received incremental increases, it was found that TTC CEO Rick Leary received a 21 per cent increase compared to the previous year. In 2020 Leary had a salary of $361,000; in 2021 that rose to $438,495.

Quoted in the Toronto Star, TTC Chair and Ward 18 Councillor Jaye Robinson gave an ambiguous defence of this increase. According to him, “the CEO’s salary was adjusted based on terms of the contract and after conducting an industry-wide scan of comparators to ensure that the compensation remains competitive.” 

Leary’s mismanagement gets rewarded

In February 2019, Toronto’s Auditor General found that the TTC lost at least $64 million to fare evasion and faulty Metrolinx equipment. Even three years after their implementation we are still seeing Presto machines not operating on vehicles and Presto gates at stations malfunctioning.

Of course, this issue could be easily resolved through a model of “fare-free transit”, where transit is free to ride and funding comes from government sources. The wealth is abundantly available, with corporate profits ballooning by 46 per cent (to $1.4 trillion) in 2021.

As has been illustrated in a previous article, we’ve seen plenty of failures on the part of Rick Leary and his management team during the pandemic. Their failures included over 1,000 workers sick with COVID-19 and four deaths, service cuts which led to overcrowding, the refusal to allow workers to wear masks or to provide proper PPE, no advocacy to provide vaccination supplies for workers, and a litany of petty inefficiencies and injustices.

During the pandemic we’ve seen workers everywhere laid off or struggling to make ends meet with inflation reaching almost six per cent. Unionized workers have also had pay cuts forced on them, as is the case with Bill-124 which caps public sector wage increases at one per cent. Many other unionized workers have done a little better with a two per cent increase, either negotiated or imposed through arbitration. Yes, these wages are an increase, but upon a closer examination we can see that this is a wage reduction of four to five per cent when compared to inflation. 

Like other public sector workers, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 (ATU 113) was offered a one per cent wage increase during their contract negotiations with the TTC. ATU 113 said that their members were “surprised” to see Leary’s compensation rise by so much during a year “when workers risked their health and safety and riders suffered through TTC service cuts.” ATU 113 members were not so much “surprised” as downright angry. However, the opportunity to mobilize that anger was lost by ATU 113 leadership, who failed to galvanize these workers to oppose the hypocrisy of TTC management. 

Consistent operational funding is required

Leary’s salary increase is even more is even more egregious given how sorely in need of funding the TTC is. During the spring of 2020 the TTC laid off 1,200 of their frontline employees. The justification given was the decline in ridership, estimated to be between 70 and 80 per cent. However, the necessity of these layoffs is called into question by the fact that Metrolinx only laid off 196 Bombardier workers assigned to GO Transit and the UP Express during the same time. What made the difference in the number of layoffs between the TTC and Metrolinx? It ultimately comes down to their dependency on the farebox versus consistent operational funding from the province. 

According to the Toronto Star, “The Ontario government subsidized the use of GO Transit and the UP Express at an eye-watering rate of more than $140 per trip last year, as ridership and fare revenue plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic.”  The TTC received a $400-million emergency bailout, but this pales in comparison to the $961 million the province gave Metrolinx in operating subsidies. As a condition of the COVID-19 bailout, the province asked the TTC and others to consider “Microtransit” (a combination of private individual transportation and public mass transit), in place of “little-used” bus routes. Metrolinx didn’t have any such suggestions attached to their bailout.

In May of last year the Federal Liberals announced $12 billion in funding for four major transit projects in Toronto. This investment in transit expansion is, of course, welcome. However, it is only a one-time injection of funding for capital projects such as the Ontario Line, Eglinton Crosstown West extension, Yonge Street North subway extension and the Scarborough subway extension.

Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party have worked to prioritize large sums of money for corporate projects, instead of fixing the existing system for working people. Transit has operating costs! Vehicles need to be operated, serviced and repaired; stations and workplaces need to be cleaned and maintained; subway tracks need to be inspected and replaced; and subway signals need to be in working order. All of these important tasks aren’t simply independent characteristics of a transit system; each is fundamentally connected to the other. Justin Trudeau fails to acknowledge that transit can only operate efficiently and safely because of transit workers. It is for this reason that consistent operational funding is so important.  

“The TTC relies on fares for two-thirds of its base operating budget, a level not seen in any other city in North America.” We’ve seen limitations in the fare model throughout the pandemic. We are also seeing that no emphasis is being put on operational funding by either Justin Trudeau or Doug Ford, and it is receiving no advocacy whatsoever from CEO Rick Leary. The reason for this is very clear. They want to drive down the wages of the transit workers that engage in this important work and relieve themselves of this “budgetary burden” through privatization and contracting out. This will have a devastating impact on TTC workers and riders alike. The only people unaffected by this initiative are the TTC CEO, the executive and the abundance of HR administrators. All these bureaucrats can make an easy transition to the private sector without financial penalty.   

Class divides boiling over

It is utter hypocrisy that transit services get cut while a transit CEO receives a 21 per cent raise. It is also hypocritical that pandemic profiteering has added to the growing wealth of CEOs and corporations, while workers are being denied the wage increases needed to simply match inflation. If Leary deserves 21 per cent for sitting in an office, then the workers who actually keep the city moving deserve even more!

The bosses’ government and their CEOs have failed to provide quality transit, with adequate and consistent funding. The primary focus is to turn a service that the majority of people depend on into a service that is profitable for the minority. 

Workers are increasingly aware of this hypocrisy and this is creating a divide between the working class and the ruling class. Where many workers used to be indifferent to this hypocrisy, now they are angry and want to act! Workers are no longer content with just getting by, since it is becoming progressively more impossible to get by at all! 

Workers are seeing the limitations in looking to the ruling class for a decent standard of living. Our bosses will only provide us enough crumbs to guarantee that our labour is exploited for another day, and nothing more. The workers must go on the offensive to demand a decent standard of living and services, combined with the solidarity of the entire labour movement behind them.