The leaders of Amalgamated Transit Union local 113 are not required to think about customers — unless their members, TTC employees, insist upon it.
When the union moved into legal strike position on April 1, it promised a 48-hour warning to riders. That vow, however motivated, showed that the public was being considered in the difficult and often confrontational process of labour negotiations. When the ATU directed members to stop working early Saturday morning — surprising thousands across the city — the message instead was that customers are a low priority.
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Transit riders can speculate about the merits of the tentative contract TTC workers rejected, or about shifting sentiments within the 9,000-strong union local, whether by job category or degree of militancy. However, the employees I’m counting on to define the workforce are the ones who feel their prime concern is serving the public.
These are the people who know they could work elsewhere — perhaps transporting freight and not human beings — but choose to be at the TTC. These are the employees, both on the “front line” or distanced from customers in a garage or office, who recognize that serving others is one of the highest callings.
After so many riders were left stranded at midnight last Friday, these men and women may now appear to be in a minority. I know they are not. Regardless of whether transit is declared an essential service, it’s up to the workers and management of the TTC to take extraordinary measures — together — to prove their top concern is indeed moving people.
What can riders do? Treat with genuine courtesy all transit employees you encounter — whether or not the return treatment is similar. The alternative means possibly contributing to a vicious spiral of rudeness and animosity aboard our buses, streetcars and in our subway stations.