Walking the Talk (2)

Today (February 9), Bob Kinnear, the President of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, held a press conference to present the union’s response to recent events and statements on the TTC, in the media and from TTC management.

Note that the text linked here was scanned from the version distributed to the media before the briefing, and it may not exactly match Kinnear’s presentation.  However, the text doesn’t appear to be in a convenient online location and so I am posting it here.

The text reads fairly well and while it takes a firm stance, it does acknowledge that things need to change.  To that end, the ATU plans to organize a series of Town Halls where the public and union members can discuss issues related to the TTC and how they might be addressed.  Whether such events will be at all cordial I don’t know given the comments on various blogs and media sites, but at least the union is trying to go to the public with its story.

I wasn’t at the press conference, but received news of it later and saw a few clips on the evening news.  Unfortunately, what I saw showed Kinnear in the more familiar, combative mode that is the union’s public face.  Some of this was selective editing.  For example, there was a line “Who made you God?” which was directed at the TTC’s Brad Ross for implying that it is possible to take a washroom break in only 3 minutes, including the time it takes to get between the vehicle and the washroom.  This was forcefully (more than necessary) delivered, and used as a free-standing clip by Global TV.

Later, I was interviewed by Global, but they used only a snippet out of a longer conversation.  In that clip, I said, in effect, that the problem of rude staff isn’t a one-or-two-of thing because there are simply too many separate reports coming from reasonably credible sources.  I didn’t mention that I (and I’m sure anyone else who is even vaguely connected with the TTC) am getting notes and reports from friends about their experiences.

The larger context of the interview was first my pleasure that the union took the high road even though, as I understood things, Kinnear’s delivery of the message used a hard line that might have been counterproductive.  I talked about “TTC culture” and a management where, for anything that happens, the first reaction is to find something external to blame rather than looking inside for improvement.

I also talked about the need for some labour discussions to take place in public, and unusual move I know.  One of the big issues through the past weeks is the question of breaks — how long, how often, where.  Some operating shifts have breaks built in, but not all of them, and even the scheduled breaks can be thrown awry if service is always badly off kilter.  Fixing this will take much negotiation and probably changes in the way operators’ work is defined and scheduled.

Recent events are so public that at least the broad outline of the issues, positions and possible fixes must be visible so that even if everyone can’t agree (and I use a very broad definition of “everyone”), at least they will understand the options on the table.

(I am not going to get into a debate about the level of operators’ wages here as we have pounded that topic to death before.)

The joys of media coverage, whether you’re a union president, a politician or just a transit advocate, involve the chances one takes in the editing.  I said what I said, and I stand by that, but wanted those who might only see the five second clip to know the larger story.

Please note that comments on this item will be strongly monitored for intemperate language.  This is a complex issue and it deserves an informed, detailed discussion, not rants from either side of the political spectrum.

42 thoughts on “Walking the Talk (2)

  1. I have just returned from a very relaxing vacation and have had to “catch up” on all the latest media issues with the TTC. I would like to address a couple of the comments here.

    Nick J Boragina said:

    “if the Union wants to gain public support they have to stop these endless threats of strikes. A TTC strike is, in effect, both sides trying to hurt the most vulnerable so hard, SO hard, that the other side feels it. I cannot express in words how frustrated this makes me.”

    It is a popular myth that our union is constantly threating to go on strike. Strike threats happen every three years, coinciding with the expiration of the collective agreement. This is part of the collective bargaining process – if an agreement cannot be reached by a set deadline, the union membership will LEGALLY withdraw their services until an agreement can be reached.

    OgtheDim said:

    “This union leadership lost credibility with the midnight shutdown for the wildcat walkout. They put themselves before the safety of the riders. That memory stuck in people’s minds – what many consider an essential service to living in this city being shut down before people could get home.”

    The April 2008 midnight shutdown was NOT a wildcat strike. The ONLY wildat walkout occurred in May 2006. The April 2008 shutdown was a LEGAL strike that occurred after the Union membership voted no to ratifying the negotiated agreement. It was made very clear to the union membership that a no vote meant we were off the job and on a legal strike. The media and municipal politicians did an extremely poor job of conveying this information to the public. I personally disagree with the midnight shutdown (whereas I feel the strike should have been effectice at the start of service the next morning: 5:00 AM) but it was actually Transit Control that sent out the message to shut down the system (the Union does not have access to the CIS system).

    Keith L said:

    “Perhaps pay should be in the discussion. TTC employees are not underpaid. That token collector makes 3-4x what any grocery store cashier makes for half the workload. And most TTC bus drivers usually make 2-3x what school bus drivers make. So they aren’t underpaid. And because they are paid well, this is exactly why the public feels they are owed more than apathetic passenger delivery service.”

    You are comparing part time positions to full time permanant positions, so such a comparison in pay rayes is not valid.


  2. One additional comment here based on today’s headline story about David Caplin proposing a bill to declare TTC workers as an essential service and thus remove the Union’s right to strike and management’s right to lock out. Be VERY careful what you ask for! This type of legislation does NOT eliminate the Union’s right to “work to rule”.

    I have very strong memories of the 41 day work to rule campaign of 1989! My wife was gravely effected by this disruption (she was pregnant at the time and was travelling from northeast Scarborough to the heart of downtown Toronto to go to work. I wasn’t working for the TTC at that time and was not happy with the situation.

    A TTC work to rule situation would be more crippling to the city than a strike ever could be. So, I repeat: be VERY careful what you wish for!


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