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Moscoe, union in 'racism' clash

Outgoing TTC chair unapologetic over comments

Moira Welsh and Peter Edwards

Outgoing TTC chair Howard Moscoe isn’t in an apologetic mood.

The city councillor is under fire for saying the Toronto Transit Commission should rid itself of a small cadre of rude and racist drivers - but the TTC union’s attacks on him in newspaper ads leave him unrepentant.

Moscoe made the comments at his final meeting as chair of the commission last week. In doing so, the union claims he has tarnished all drivers.

“I didn’t brand all of our drivers racists and I don’t have to apologize for something I didn’t do,” he said yesterday, reached at a telecommunications meeting in Montreal.

“Frankly, TTC customers ought to be able to expect a ride without facing a driver who is confrontational, and there are a small number who are.”

The ads in yesterday’s Toronto Star and Toronto Sun were headlined, “Howard Moscoe: you owe us an apology.”

They went on to say: “You should have known that a public allegation of racism, no matter how unsubstantiated, would affect public perception of all TTC employees.”

Vince Casuti, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, said he ran the large ads because of phone calls the union received after newspapers published Moscoe’s comments.

“He’s blown it up more than it needs to be,” Casuti said yesterday from a pension conference in San Francisco.

At last Wednesday’s meeting, Moscoe brandished a rider’s complaint about racism and said, “I suggest to you that there are a small percentage of employees who are bad apples and these bad apples are souring the whole system.”

Moscoe said he spoke out of frustration because the TTC does not handle rider complaints adequately.

“The problem is, when I get complaints, of course I feed them to the bureaucracy, and the bureaucracy appears to be more geared to smoothing over the complaints than it is to resolving the problem,” he said.

“The union owes it to all their members to make sure that the people who are racists and are giving the others a bad name are rooted out.”

Casuti defended his members, saying, “Howard Moscoe knows the procedures on discourtesy complaints and how they go through. He knows that over the last six years we haven’t even had any go to arbitration.”

Moscoe said the ads have more to do with the upcoming transit union election than his comments: “This is an overreaction by a politician who wants to get re-elected.”

But some TTC workers were still angry with Moscoe for citing a letter of complaint that accused a “majority” of the system’s staff of being racist.

“Don’t paint everybody with the same brush. That’s not right,” said Mike Kellen, 49, a ticket-taker at the Wilson subway station.

A TTC worker for 25 years, Kellen said he has been spat upon, assaulted four or five times and insulted on countless occasions, but he still prides himself on being polite and helpful.

He said employees daily perform acts of courtesy like escorting nervous riders to their cars or chatting with lonely and confused people.

That’s the rule - not the exception - for most of the local’s 8,500 workers, said Kellen, a five-time winner of a customer excellence award given by the transit system.

His comments were echoed by TTC drivers at the Eglinton Avenue station, some of whom said their anger was tempered by joy that Moscoe is on the way out.

If there is a real problem with an employee, it should be dealt with, rather than running down the whole workforce, suggested one disgruntled driver. “You wear a uniform and everybody thinks you’re the same,” the driver said.

According to TTC statistics, in 1999 there were 2,673 discourtesy complaints - about 18 per cent of the 15,102 total complaints to the commission. That total works out to about one for every 27,450 rides, said TTC spokesperson Marilyn Bolton.