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New boss on board in TTC talks

Union peers laud his quick thinking

He ‘seems astute,’ TTC head allows


Bob Kinnear — the man who will make the call on whether the TTC union will settle or strike — has made quite an impression in the short time he’s led the 8,400 members of Local 113 of the Amalgamated Transit Union.

The forthright 34-year-old — one of the youngest leaders of a major union in the country — is earning kudos in his first collective bargaining session.

“He’s very bright,” said John Cartwright, president of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council. “He comes from the ranks of the TTC workers; that’s what he’s done all of his life. He’s really quite determined to provide leadership that’s for the betterment of his members.”

Howard Moscoe, the TTC chair who will ultimately have to find common ground with Kinnear to settle a contract, said TTC negotiators don’t take Kinnear lightly.

“He doesn’t have the experience that other presidents have had because he’s never bargained a collective agreement before,” said Moscoe. “It takes time to learn how to do it well. For a first-time president, he’s not too bad.

“He seems to be astute and seems to understand and speak very well for his employees.”

Whereas Local 113 has been accused in the past of being too independent, Kinnear is reaching out. Not just to the media, which he sees as an effective tool and not an enemy, but also to transit riders, hoping they’ll become his allies.

He wants to get the message out that his rank and file work 12 1/2-hour split shifts — leaving little time for family — in a We Move Toronto advertising and Web campaign. At the same time, he’s reaching out to commuters, getting their feedback — positive and negative — about the TTC and its workers through their website. He also launched a magazine and uses text messaging to stay in touch, in an overhaul of the union’s traditional communications style.

In short, he’s brought Local 113 into the information age, no small accomplishment for a 105-year-old institution.

Bill Reno, a media adviser to the union for 15 years, called Kinnear a natural leader with “great instincts for how his members will feel about issues, and (he) can quickly communicate the essence of complex issues to them.” He’s intense, quick-thinking and incredibly good with numbers, says Reno.

Perhaps most remarkable, however, is his rise to the union’s top job.

Kinnear joined the TTC at age 18, working at the Hillcrest complex on Bathurst St., and held a variety of jobs. In December 2003, sensing that rank-and-file TTC workers wanted change, Kinnear took on two-term president Vince Casuti — who had the endorsement of all 15 members of the executive board — and won the union’s leadership by a sizable majority.

“That’s a sign of the kind of impression he makes on people,” said Cartwright. “He clearly understands and reflects their frustrations.”

Frank Grimaldi has known Kinnear since 1990, when the two sold tickets and tokens on the subway. “Negotiations so far have been hard, but he’s done a hell of a job keeping us together and getting us where we’re supposed to be going,” said Grimaldi, who serves on the union’s executive board. “He’s done well; he’s a good listener. He listens to everyone’s opinion before he makes up his mind, which is an excellent quality in a leader.”

Reno said Kinnear is under intense pressure from the lack of sleep, media spotlight and conflicting advice from others on the board. But “when a decision has to be made … he seems to be able to clear his head and focus laser-like on the issue and the potential consequences of his decisions. Once he has made a decision, he moves on to the next one. … He never agonizes about it afterwards.”

More telling will be what happens after an agreement is signed. While Cartwright’s council has been pushing the transit agenda in the negotiations for a new deal for cities, the ATU has been silent. Cartwright said he’d welcome Kinnear’s voice alongside his in promoting transit as a cheaper, environmentally friendly alternative to cars. “They’ve always been supportive of it but they haven’t been on the forefront,” he said. “Bob is somebody who knows how essential that is.”