Heated taxi union meeting leaves members confused

A Tuesday night meeting for members of the Ontario Taxi Workers Union leaves members confused and questioning the democratic process.
The city's taxi union is embroiled in an internal power struggle. (Terry Asma/CBC)

The day after a heated taxi worker union meeting was shut down by police, there is confusion about the status of the union, its leadership and where it goes from here.

The Ontario Taxi Workers Union is dealing with internal disputes surrounding a service agreement it has with the United Steelworkers (USW), to which union dues go, and the actions of its founding president, Ejaz Butt.

The board of directors and secretary Jamie MacArthur say they ousted Butt earlier this month--however Butt says he had actually dissolved the board.

Coming out of Tuesday’s meeting at the Steelworkers Hall on Barton Street, some members say the organization’s membership needs to elect a whole new slate of directors, while the directors say they only need to confirm their choice for a new permanent president.

But neither action was taken, as the meeting was cut short by police when opposing groups tried to get their views heard on the floor.

Police cleared the hall before any voting on whether the membership wanted to continue with the current board members and president could happen.

"The motion didn't happen," said union member Asif Abbas. "We all left the hall and they locked the doors."

MacArthur said because police cleared the meeting, "we never did get to ask the crystal clear question, 'Do you want us or not?'"

But, said MacArthur: "The question didn't have to be asked," adding the board is not constitutionally required to ask the membership to vote out a president; the board has that final say.

Safety issues for cabbies

The union disputes are happening at a time when on-the-job safety for drivers is in question. A July 16 attack on driver Anwar Sajad left him in hospital to undergo multiple surgeries. His daughter, Zunaria, confirmed he is now in rehabilitation, but is unable to sit by himself, stand up or walk.

After being voted out by his board, Butt was summoned to last night’s meeting for a show cause hearing, but was then not allowed in the hall. Steelworkers had asked police not to let him on the property, Butt said.

"I'm a law abiding citizen," he said. "The police were telling me I can't stay, so I didn't stay."

Members Sayed Bukhari and Abbas said the process to date hasn't been handled properly after the union's board of directors — including Butt's roles as president — was dissolved at an Aug. 12 meeting. Both Bukhari and Abbas attended Tuesday's meeting.

"It was an illegal meeting called by a board that was already dissolved by taxi workers," said Bukhari. 'We all went to see what was going on. We were surprised because the board had been dissolved."

MacArthur said Butt didn't show at the show-cause board meeting, but arrived later to the general members meeting and "brought a mob of 18 or 20 people to interrupt."

Police step in

MacArthur said about 200 of the union’s 1,100 members attended the general meeting. Bukhari and Abbas said it was more like 130. It started off on the wrong foot for some when they were asked to sign in with name and phone number to be able to enter the hall.

The police had been called to the meeting for a disturbance by this point, according to a Hamilton Police press release.

 "In this strange situation, we all went inside the hall and the meeting started," Bukhari said.

Inside the hall, MacArthur started to read allegations from the board to Butt with regards to his behaviour and communications with the USW. Bukhari said MacArthur told the membership Butt "illegally dissolved the board and Butt is not in favour of the USW."

That's when Bukhari said he stood up to speak.

"You can't defame a gentleman you didn't allow inside," he said.

Both Abbas and Bukhari described the rest of the meeting as feeling they were "not even in Canada."

"It looked like police were chairing the meeting," Abbas said. "We didn't like what was going on."

The membership was told by officers not to interrupt. If anyone stood up to speak, Bukari said that person was told to sit down. He stood up three times to speak. After the third time, about 10 people stood up with him. That's when police shut down the meeting, he said.

Butt said he wasn't planning on running again for president when an election does happen, but he has since changed his mind.

"They [the membership] asked me to come back, so I will," he said.

Abbas said he'd still support a union for taxi workers, "a good team is beneficial," he said. But that's not the team he saw at Tuesday's meeting.

"Democracy is the best policy here," he said. "That didn't happen."