The TTC’s largest union is undergoing a civil war of sorts.
Just last week Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) ejected much of the senior leadership of local shop 113, which represents the vast majority of TTC workers. The list of the ousted includes longtime 113 president Bob Kinnear, who the ATU accuses as the main orchestrator of an effort to split the local from its parent. Kinnear counters the Washington D.C.-based ATU is coercing its Canadian membership for support. He has publicly joined forces with Unifor in an effort to convince his many remaining supporters at 113 to break ranks with their American masters and join the Canadian labour giant instead (full disclosure: the Metroland Media Toronto newsroom is affiliated with Unifor).
Of course, little of this inter-labour strife will register with the transit-taking public, if at all, so long as the buses, streetcars and subway trains keep running. Neither will it matter all too much, at least publicly, to TTC management, which has largely refrained from commenting on the situation. And to their credit, both ATU and Unifor have pledged not to disrupt service while the dispute plays out.
This is a pivotal year for both 113 and the TTC. Spot drug testing of TTC employees is likely to commence in a matter of months. At the end of the year, the TTC will launch a new customer service process once the Spadina extension opens, which will see station collectors removed from their booths and dispatched throughout the station. In between, the TTC will launch the first phase of Automatic Train Control (ATC) – the main reason for all those weekend-long subway closures – which will see trains piloted via computer, albeit overseen by a single, human operator per subway train.
Taken together with the overall trend of declining influence of the labour movement, it’s not hard to see a steady unravelling of the union’s strength. For transit riders facing annual fare increases in part to cover the costs of generous employee wages, this might not be such a bad thing. Regardless of which faction wins out, they’ll have to deal with a much-changed landscape for labour rights.