Ottawa bus union to fight firing of swearing driver

Labour experts say it could be more than a year before an OC Transpo driver learns his fate after he was fired for swearing at and threatening a passenger.

WARNING: Graphic language

Union says it will fight to get driver back to work after he was fired for yelling and swearing at passenger 2:23

Labour experts say it could be more than a year before an OC Transpo driver learns his fate after he was fired for swearing at and threatening a passenger.

On Monday transit management told City of Ottawa councillors and staff the driver had been dismissed. The dismissal came after a passenger posted the tirade on YouTube and it became known to the public.

The video showed the driver of the No. 96 bus to Kanata yelling at a young autistic man who was talking loudly. The stream of abuse also included a physical threat against the rider.

Garry Queale, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279, said the union will appeal the decision to fire the driver and said he expects him to get a job back with OC Transpo.

"In my opinion he will be rehired — maybe not as a bus driver — but he will come back and work for the City of Ottawa," said Queale, who along with other union leaders is trying to transfer the driver to another job in the OC Transpo garage.

The driver, who was previously on paid leave, will no longer receive a salary pending the grievance.

Labour lawyer David Spears said the grievance process could include arbitration and may take up to a year to resolve.

"An arbitrator is going to look at factors in the person's individual or personal life that may have led the person to act the way they did," said Spears.

Driver lost wife, mother, to cancer

Queale defended the driver, an OC Transpo employee for the past 25 years — saying he had been spat on two days before the tirade. Queale also said the man lost both his mother and wife to cancer within the past year.

Allan Bonner, an expert in crisis communications, said the union's initial reaction may have hurt their cause.

Queale initially said it wasn't clear who was doing the yelling, and also challenged the legality of recording a video on the bus.

Union criticized for handling of incident

Bonner said that response may have further turned public sentiment against the union and the driver.

"What the union has to do is stand up for its members but also reach out to the people it serves," said Bonner.

"Those unionized workers serve the transit going population of Ottawa, and I didn't hear anything reaching out to them."

The 55-second cellphone video of the exchange has drawn hundreds of views and many angry comments from the public since it was posted to YouTube.

It shows 20-year-old Matthew Taronno in shorts standing near the front of the bus when the driver apparently yells at him.

"Shut the f---k up!" the man says to the passenger. "Shut your ignorant f---king cake-hole! Don't say another f---king word!"

Taronno told CBC News he did not want the driver to lose his job.

"I'm kind of saddened that it took it this far. I feel bad that it happened," said the passenger, who added he thinks he provoked the incident but the angry response was not justified.


With files from the CBC's Giacomo Panico