Texting TTC drivers: the pictures are not the problem

The Toronto Transit Commission and Amalgamated Transit Union have politely asked riders to kindly stop taking pictures of their employees. It’s demeaning, they say, and they’re perfectly capable of managing their own employees without the public’s help.

Except, clearly, they aren’t. Or there wouldn’t be so many photos being passed around on the Internet, and there would be no story.

The pictures in question started around this time last year, when a rider photographed a subway ticket collector asleep in his booth, and posted the picture to Twitter. Other incidents followed, including frightened riders phoning police to report the erratic driving of the intoxicated driver of their bus, and a video of a driver stopping a loaded bus mid-route for a seven-minute coffee break (the driver reportedly “dared” the rider to file a complaint). More recently, a rider took pictures of a bus driver texting on their cell phone while driving, which has been against the law in Ontario for more than a year now.

The TTC, via spokesperson Brad Ross, reacted to each incident the way you would expect the face of a huge government entity to respond, each time saying the incident would be investigated internally and appropriate discipline meted out, according to Commission policy. However, the transit union local president Bob Kinnear has responded each time by throwing the incident back at riders with bizarre defensive arguments. Kinnear famously argued that the rider should have tried to wake the sleeping operator, for example. In the recent public barrage, Kinnear offers that if the public would just stop taking pictures of misbehaving employees, the Commission and the Union will deal with them appropriately. There are cameras in all of the buses, after all.

I couldn’t disagree more. We live in an era of transparency and ever-increasing public scrutiny, and you might say crowd surveillance. Anyone has the capability to broadcast, in a sense. The TTC and ATU have a history of ignoring their problems, and trying to keep things away from public analysis. The best example of this is in the way they handle subway suicides. They think that they can somehow mitigate the problem by not talking about it, or more likely they think they can avoid dealing with it. Riders publishing pictures of misbehaving staff are forcing them to face the issues for the first time, whether they are ready for it or not. (They’re not.)

Kinnear’s response is akin to asking riders to ignore the many problems and expect that they’ll go away. While it’s Kinnear’s job to protect and defend the union’s members, sometimes that means taking ownership and responsibility for those who fail in such spectacular ways as being asleep or high on drugs while on the job. Instead, Kinnear acts the stereotypical heavy-handed union boss goon, smugly defending lazy and incompetent workers with jobs for life under union protection. In 2009, it is reported the TTC received over 30,000 complaints, from minor issues like discourteous service and late buses, to operators smoking in no smoking areas (my personal favourite), right up to staff who are violent and endanger public safety. Through Kinnear’s tirades, the union refuses to deal with it, and the negative image spreads to the entire organization.

Now, Kinnear claims that some of his members are being stalked and harassed by riders with camera phones, spit on, verbally and physically assaulted and such, even when not on duty, and he blames the media for reporting these stories. While I would never condone that behaviour from anyone, I suspect Kinnear is exaggerating somewhat. It’s his job to defend the union, after all. Demanding that riders stop taking pictures is no solution to what comes down to a union problem. The solution is for the union to shape up and deal with those few employees who keep giving those riders things to take pictures of. If that means getting rid of those workers, the union and the TTC will be better for it.

There are thousands of unionized TTC employees who are polite, helpful, courteous, and truly worthy of our respect. It’s sad reality that a few bad examples are ruining it for everyone, and it’s unfortunate that the union refuses to deal with their problem. As long as the union continues to defend these problem employees, there will be riders catching pictures of misbehaving employees, and these stories will never go away.

About Greg Burrell

Greg is an accountant, cyclist and political observer living in Toronto, Canada with too many cats.
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  • I respectfully disagree.

    It is not the union’s job to police its members. It is the union’s job to protect its members and ensure disciplinary actions initiated by management are proven to have merit and are carried out in accordance with the terms of the collective agreement and Ontario’s labour laws. Poor behaviour by TTC staff is not a union problem any more than a crime is a defence lawyer’s problem.

    Poor behaviour by TTC staff is a management problem and it is management’s responsibility to fix. Failure to do so is also a management problem. If management lacks the will or the resources to successfully discipline unionized staff that, in turn, is a problem for City Hall.

    But the union’s job is to represent and defend its members’ interests.

    You may disagree with Mr. Kinnear’s choice of rhetoric but his job is to protect his members and he is answerable to them for how he does it, not the public.

  • I respectfully disagree.

    It is not the union’s job to police its members. It is the union’s job to protect its members and ensure disciplinary actions initiated by management are proven to have merit and are carried out in accordance with the terms of the collective agreement and Ontario’s labour laws. Poor behaviour by TTC staff is not a union problem any more than a crime is a defence lawyer’s problem.

    Poor behaviour by TTC staff is a management problem and it is management’s responsibility to fix. Failure to do so is also a management problem. If management lacks the will or the resources to successfully discipline unionized staff that, in turn, is a problem for City Hall.

    But the union’s job is to represent and defend its members’ interests.

    You may disagree with Mr. Kinnear’s choice of rhetoric but his job is to protect his members and he is answerable to them for how he does it, not the public.