TORONTO -- The TTC says that it will temporarily lay off 1,200 employees over the coming weeks in response to a dramatic decline in ridership and a loss of $90 million in monthly revenue.

The TTC announced the measure in a news release issued on Thursday morning.

It said that it will temporarily lay off 1,000 transit operators in order to “match service capacity to system demand,” subject to negotiations with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113. It says that the layoffs will also affect 200 non-unionized employees.

As well, the TTC said that it will introduce a salary freeze for non-unionized employees, reduce the use of overtime across the organization, forgo seasonal hires and “delay all non-essential capital projects.”

The TTC says that it expects the temporary lay-offs and other measures it is taking to save it about $25 million a month once fully implemented.

"This was not an easy decision to make and came only after reviewing all other options," TTC CEO Rick Leary said in the release. "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 had tried to maintain service levels

While other transit agencies, including Metrolinx, have reduced service amid significant decreases in ridership the TTC had resisted calls to do the same with Mayor John Tory arguing that any reduction in frequency on busy routes could result in more crowding on subways, streetcars and buses.

That thinking, however, has now changed in the face of significant financial challenges.

The TTC says that going forward it will maintain service at 70 to 80 per cent of regular levels, which it says will be enough to meet demand amid a roughly 85 per cent decline in ridership.

“During this emergency, the TTC has worked hard to find a way to keep service where it is most needed, to help our frontline and essential workers who still rely on many key routes. But without help from our federal and provincial partners, the TTC is making it clear it will have to take these temporary measures to protect the service,” Tory said in a statement issued on Thursday afternoon. “As mayor, I know we need to do everything we can to protect our city and our TTC so that Toronto can come back stronger than ever when the restart and recovery begins.”

Union calls for emergency funding

In a memo sent to its 12,000 members following the announcement, ATU Local 113 said that move serves as a “punch to the gut” to TTC operators who have “sacrificed themselves day in and day out” and “put their families and themselves at risk” in order to continue providing an essential service.

The memo says that the layoffs will also have consequences “for essential, low-income workers who depend on the TTC to get to work at hospitals, nursing homes, grocery stores and pharmacies.”

“The only way to reverse these cuts is immediate emergency funding from government,” ATU Local 113 President Carlos Santos said. “My next step will be to take the fight to Toronto City Hall, Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park to ensure the TTC gets the emergency funding it needs to maintain service levels to prevent these layoffs and protect essential workers during this crisis.”

Earlier this week the city announced a deal with its inside and outside workers unions to redeploy some employees who perform non-essential work that can’t be done remotely to other roles.

The city said that 500 staff members have already been reassigned and that 1,900 will get the opportunity to apply for new roles through a redeployment survey. City spokesperson Brad Ross, however, has confirmed that TTC workers impacted by the impending layoffs will not be eligible for that redeployment effort, as it is part of an agreement with CUPE locals 416 and 79.

In his statement, Tory said that he is hopeful that the TTC will be able to work ATU Local 113 to “find a way forward that preserves as many jobs as possible,” as the city has done.

He said that he will also continue to fight for emergency funding from Queen’s Park and Parliament, noting that the “entire country is counting on a strong recovery right here in Toronto.”

“Cities are on the frontlines of helping combat COVID-19 and they will be on the frontlines of rebuilding and reviving the economy,” he said.

Speaking at Queen’s Park on Thursday, Premier Doug Ford said that discussions are ongoing with municipalities regarding financial support but he said that the province just doesn’t have a “money printing machine.”

City officials in Toronto alone have previously said that expect to lose $1.5 billion due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has called for a $10 billion emergency bailout for cities.

“We have a certain capacity and as my finance minister always says the federal government has a printing machine. We don’t have that printing machine,” Ford said. “We will be working with the fed government along with the municipalities and I think between the three of us we can come up with a solution that works well for everyone.”