Toronto

TTC workers fired for cellphone use: union

The head of Toronto's transit union alleges employees have been fired for using their cellphones while on breaks, in emergencies or away from their vehicles.

Management disputes union boss claims

TTC vs. phones?

Toronto

10 years ago
2:40
Union alleges employees have been fired for using cellphones on breaks 2:40

The head of Toronto's transit union alleges employees have been fired for using their cellphones while on breaks, in emergencies or away from their vehicles.

Bob Kinnear, head of ATU Local 113, sent a phone message to members Sunday slamming the Toronto Transit Commission for disciplining employees using cellphones even when there are "absolutely no public safety issues involved," a claim TTC managers deny.

Are TTC labour talks the real issue?

While the transit union and management argue about using cellphones at work, the real issue may be the ongoing labour negotiations at the TTC. Both sides are negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement; the current one expires at the end of this month. The province is also expected to pass legislation on March 24 that would declare the TTC an essential service. Many TTC drivers who spoke to CBC News about this story on Monday said the cellphone issue is really a smokescreen, an attempt by management to get a leg up in contract negotiations. "It's not about cellphones," one driver told CBC's Muhammad Lila. "It's about trying to provoke a job action from us, to get a reaction."

"The union is being swamped with such cases," Kinnear said in the message.

"If you are asked to work overtime you can be fired for calling your spouse on your cellphone from the subway platform to say you won't be home for dinner, or for calling home to check on a sick child, or even for calling 911 to report a crime you have witnessed."

Kinnear's message comes just over a month after pictures of TTC drivers using cellphones on the job made headlines.

TTC chief general manager Gary Webster said in light of the "high-profile" incidents, management met individually with workers to discuss expectations about their conduct while on the job.

Members of the public may think, for example, that employees are getting paid for not doing anything if they are seen behind the wheel using a cellphone or reading a book, even if they are on a break, he said.

"This isn't what's been called a crackdown. This is simply to make sure that employees understand what we expect of them and what the public is also expecting," Webster said.

He denied people were being fired for calling their families or 911.

"I don't think there's any reason why we would want to be terminating an employee for seeking emergency help. I mean that seems kind of silly," he told CBC's Metro Morning in an interview on Monday.

TTC spokesman Brad Ross said he didn't know exactly what Kinnear meant when the union head said the union was being "swamped" by reports of management reprimanding employees for cellphone use.

He said the TTC investigates complaints from riders and, if needed, initiates a disciplinary process in which employees are entitled to have union representation.

"And so that may be ... what Mr. Kinnear is referring to in terms of being swamped," he said.

Kinnear also said in his Sunday message that one female bus driver was "fired on the spot" for using her cellphone to take a picture after a passenger spit on her.

The driver was assaulted last Thursday, Kinnear said. She used a cellphone to take a picture of her assailant as he left the bus, which was not moving at the time, he said.

She was fired after she told management about the assault and showed them the picture, according to Kinnear.

"Well, there's much more to the story that," Webster said, adding she is "still an employee." Webster said she was told that management doesn't want operators to take pictures of the public.

The TTC already has surveillance cameras installed on buses.

Ross, the TTC spokesman, said the woman was reinstated after her case was re-evaluated.

Kinnear said that TTC workers should not use their cellphones while operating vehicles or if there is a public safety concern.

"But we will very strongly defend your right to use your phone while you are on break and where there is no public safety issue," he said.

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