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Union Sabotaged Vote: TTC

Tentative Deal; ‘Deliberately spread false’ contract details

By Chris Wattie,
With files from Matthew Coutts

TTC officials say a “whisper campaign” of misinformation and false rumours may have killed the city’s tentative agreement with the transit union and led to the weekend’s surprise walkout.

“It’s unfortunate, but some false information was being spread,” a frustrated Adam Giambrone, the TTC chairman, said yesterday. “There were a lot of rumours flying around … and none of them were true.”

Until late Friday, the three-year contract between the TTC and the Amalgamated Transit Union appeared to be headed for ratification. However, when the union announced the results of the voting, 65% had turned down the contract.

A few hours later, the union called a strike without giving commuters the 48 hours’ notice they had promised, stranding some transit riders early Saturday. Queen’s Park passed back-to-work legislation on Sunday afternoon.

“We were surprised and disappointed,” Mr. Giambrone said. “We expected that the union [leaders] would be able to sell it to their members … the union executive was unable to deliver.”

Mr. Giambrone blamed much of the animosity toward the agreement on a flood of rumours that circulated among union rank and file in the days before the ratification vote.

The tentative deal, which had been recommended by a majority of the union’s leadership, would have given them improved benefits and wage increases tied to salary hikes of other transit workers in the GTA.

But unionized maintenance workers, who make up about a third of the nearly 9,000 members of Local 113, did not like the deal. And media reports had suggested a split on the union’s executive committee, including a stormy meeting marked by shouting and chair throwing.

TTC officials said privately they suspect some members of the union executive who were unhappy with the tentative deal reached last week effectively sabotaged the ratification vote by spreading rumours about the agreement reached April 20 after a weekend of marathon bargaining.

“This wasn’t a misunderstanding or someone misreading the language [of the agreement],” said one TTC official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “This was deliberate misinterpretation to sink ratification.”

Maintenance workers were unhappy that subway, bus and streetcar operators won the so-called “GTA clause,” which would have awarded them salary increases if other transit drivers in the Toronto area got pay hikes.

Many other workers were disgruntled that improvements to benefits were to be delayed under the tentative deal, the source said.

But the most virulent rumour being spread was that warranty work on all new buses purchased by the TTC would be contracted out to non-union workers, resulting in layoffs for union members.

Mr. Giambrone said that simply was not true: “There’s nothing about that in the agreement. It wasn’t on the table and it wasn’t in the deal: as simple as that.”

The transit commission went to the length of issuing a news release yesterday “clarifying collective bargaining issues” and listing eight “concerns” that some of its employees had with the tentative deal.

“There is a lot of confusion surrounding a number of items that were agreed to in the tentative agreement,” the TTC said in the release.

The most contentious were the rumours surrounding contracting out and job security. “All employees continue to have job security protection. Nothing has changed,” the TTC said. “We continue to ensure that our employees are not laid off or terminated as a direct result of contracting out work.”

Bob Kinnear, the union local president, insisted he still has the support of his members, although he acknowledged that “It’s very difficult to negotiate for 9,000 people.”

He bristled when asked if he had lost the support of the membership. “I’m not out of touch with the union. We have an executive board that consists of 16 people, including myself. I have a mandate from our membership and according to our bylaws … I follow the recommendation of the majority, whether it’s on the executive board or the membership.”

TTC managers should never have taken the ratification vote for granted, Mr. Kinnear added: “The fact is that Adam Giambrone was out there publicly trying to minimize any concern whether or not it would be ratified.”

“He quite blatantly told the public not to worry, he believed it would be accepted. I don’t think that was helpful.”