Winnipeg Transit union contemplates private security after violent weekend

More violence aimed at transit drivers has the union calling for something to be done before a 90-day city report on safety on buses is complete. The Amalgamated Transit Union local president is even contemplating hiring private security.

Drivers can't wait for city report on safety before something is done to protect them, union officials say

The Amalgamated Transit Union wants interim security measures after drivers were assaulted and threatened on Saturday. (Meaghan Ketcheson/CBC)

Another violent weekend on Winnipeg Transit has the union representing drivers calling for more security to protect operators and their passengers.

Amalgamated Transit Union local 1505 president John Callahan said a female passenger slapped a female driver with a newspaper and tore the pocket off the driver's uniform on Saturday afternoon.

"I had a hard time talking with her. She was very upset," Callahan said.

Later that same day, around midnight, a passenger started acting erratic and caused a disturbance.

"He was told by the operator, 'Either settle down or you're going to have to leave.' At that point he threatened to kill the operator and kill everyone on the bus," Callahan said.

John Callahan, president of Amalgamated Transit Union local 1505, says drivers are frustrated, frightened and looking for changes to make them feel more secure on the job. (CBC)
Police were called, and they apprehended a suspect, Callahan said.

Winnipeg police confirmed they are investigating both cases.

No arrests have been made in the first case. In the second, a male was detained and arrested on an outstanding warrant, police said.

Drivers are frustrated and frightened after driver Irvine Jubal Fraser was stabbed to death on the job in February, Callahan said.

"Knowing the history, why has nothing been done to this point? Now that someone actually lost their life on the job, we are not going to let things slide anymore."

A CBC journalist recently went on a late-night ride-along with Winnipeg Transit drivers.

Hundreds of Winnipeg Transit workers and their supporters rally at city hall in February, demanding changes to improve safety after driver Irvine Jubal Fraser was killed. (CBC)
"When I sit in this seat, every single day I expect something to happen, and I'm relieved when something doesn't happen," transit driver Avie Erdile said.

"People take swings at me, threaten me," said Erdile. "I've had to witness people being beaten up and not been able to do anything about it."

The city's public works committee has asked administration to produce a report on transit safety by the end of May, but something needs to be done in the interim to protect drivers, Callahan said.

"Our membership are frustrated and they're scared. I mean, you know, this whole 90 day report, what are our members supposed to do, just hang on and hope for the best?" Callahan said.

The situation is serious enough that the union is considering hiring a private security company to patrol buses, he said.

"Impact Security, they sent me an email over the weekend, so I might be having a conversation with them," Callahan said.

"I don't know if it's something we can do legally, but if it's something that we can do in the interim just to give our members peace of mind, you know, it's something we may entertain."
A CBC journalist rode along last week with two Winnipeg Transit drivers who work the night shift to find out how safe they feel on the job. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

The union recently surveyed its members about security measures drivers would like to see and added a link on its website to give drivers a place to report and describe assaults on the job.

"So that when the city's report is done and they're willing to sit down and talk with us, then we will have everything in place, what we'd like to see," Callahan said.

The city says there were 47 assaults on bus drivers last year, and 62 incidents in 2015. So far the city has just two assaults recorded for 2017, but some reports are still under investigation.

Callahan estimates there have been closer to 20 attacks on drivers so far this year. He says assaults on drivers often go unreported to transit officials because bus operators fear the situation could be used against them.

"It's turned around on them, saying 'Well you didn't follow the proper policy or the proper protocol,'" he said.

"A lot of the policies are not clear and a lot of the issues just cause conflict."

Callahan has also said some drivers who are not on shift might start doing ridealongs with other drivers for moral support.

"We just want them there for moral support, not to be vigilantes or anything like that. Our members are not trained for that and they don't need to get into those situations. It's to the point where they just want to help each other out, because the support doesn't seem to be there from the employer."