Thousands of commuters stranded in Canada's largest city in transit dispute

Hundreds of thousands of frustrated commuters in Canada 's largest city were forced to find alternate ways to work Monday, as subway stations across Toronto were shut down and buses and streetcars halted due to a long-simmering labor dispute. About 800,000 people use Toronto 's network of buses, street cars and underground subway cars every day. Only seven buses were operating Monday during the busy morning rush hour, where normally 1,300 would be in service. Subway and streetcar service was also severely crippled.

Ontario 's Labor Relations Board declared the sudden strike by Toronto Transit Commission workers illegal and issued a cease-and-desist order demanding they return to work immediately. "Picket lines are preventing employees from entering the garages," the commission said in a news release.

Rick Ducharme, general manager of the country's largest transit system, said he was waiting to see whether workers complied. The union-management battle had been brewing for months on several issues, including the safety of drivers allegedly attacked while trying to make some commuters pay their fares.

Health premiums, job evaluations and a move to make cleaning crews and employees who maintain the tracks during the day work permanent night shifts were also sticking points. Bob Kinnear, president of the 8,500-member local of the Amalgamated Transit Union, denied it was an illegal walkout and said his members had tried to report to work.

"They locked the gates and indicated that there would be no service long before our operators had an opportunity to report to work," he said. The first Toronto transit strike since 1999 caught most commuters by surprise. Many said they went to bed Sunday unaware an illegal strike was possible.

At bus stops throughout the city commuters stood in groups talking. Others were on cellular telephones trying to beg a ride from neighbors or co-workers. "I'm going to have to take a sick day or one of my vacation days," said customs broker Amy Davison. "If I'd have known last night, I could've gotten a ride in with my girlfriend, but now I'm stuck", reports the AP.

N.U.