Bus drivers union says Winnipeg Transit putting drivers at risk

The union for Winnipeg's transit operators is questioning whether the city is truly concerned about the safety of bus drivers.

Safety review was requested by council in wake of Feb. 14 stabbing death of driver Irvine Jubal Fraser

Transit union president John Callahan says bus operators are being shortchanged by transit when it comes to their safety. (CBC )

The union for Winnipeg's transit operators is questioning whether the city is truly concerned about the safety of bus drivers.

Winnipeg Transit is putting some drivers at risk, said John Callahan, president of the local branch of the Amalgamated Transit Union.

For the last couple of weeks the city has been cracking down on people not paying fares. Callahan said a transit inspector comes on the bus and asks operators to point out who didn't pay.

That puts the operator in a dangerous position because many passengers are frequent riders and the operator could be targeted in the future, he said.

Transit driver Irvine Fraser, 58, died in February after he was attacked on the University of Manitoba campus at the end of his shift. (Facebook)

That comes as the city is waiting for a review about current safety protocols and practices on transit buses — a report that Callahan said he was never consulted on.

"The ATU local 1505 is growing increasingly frustrated by bureaucratic processes at Winnipeg Transit that claim to have workers' safety as a top priority," said a news release from the ATU.

The safety review was requested by city council in the wake of the Feb. 14 stabbing death of driver Irvine Jubal Fraser.

As part of the motion, council directed administration to consult with the union to discuss improvements that could be made to keep drivers and the public safe.

The motion was passed on Feb. 28 with a due date for the report of May 30.

"Transit said they were going to consult with us. We have about three weeks left until the report is to be released and still nothing. We are totally in the dark," Callahan said.

He fears the report is already completed and will not address many of the issues the union has been raising for months.

"Once again, our bus operators are being shortchanged by transit when it comes to their safety," Callahan said.

Even before the motion was passed, Callahan said 90 days was too long to wait for a report on information he already has at hand.

"We can tell you right now what measures and protocols exist for our operators. The men and women that do this job need changes to be made now, not in 90 days — simple changes that can be implemented immediately that will make them safer on the job."

Coun. Marty Morantz, chair of the city's public works committee, said he's been in many meetings with Callahan and Transit executives. 

City councillors even attended a union meeting to hear about transit safety concerns, he said.

"I was at the union centre with 13 city councillors — probably a historic turnout for city councillors at a union event — to discuss transit security issues, a meeting that Mr. Callahan set up himself."

Callahan said he's had "great conversations with the councillors." He blamed Winnipeg Transit for the lack of consultation and the wait for the report. 

The review will include an inventory of current safety practices as well as potential ways to improve Transit operator and customer safety, said an email from a City of Winnipeg spokesperson, and it will be presented in the coming weeks.

The city said Winnipeg Transit met with the union during the process of preparing the report. Winnipeg Transit also held two employee consultation sessions on safety measures with operators and ATU executive members on March 28, the city said.