The upcoming “town halls” being held by the TTC’s main union represent a new twist in the oft-strained relationship between transit workers and the people who ride the system. Most interactions between TTC users and employees last but a few seconds and these meetings are a chance to explore why these encounters are at times so unsatisfactory.
The two-hour sessions, to take place three Sunday afternoons over the next few weeks, may be heavily covered by the media — and could end up looking like a public relations effort by the Amalgamated Transit Union.
And yet ATU local 113 has never reached out to riders like this — it is possible there is a shift in attitude among some in the union regarding “the travelling public.”
Criticism of TTC workers has been building after extremely unpopular strikes in 2006 and 2008, and burst out during this winter’s coverage of unseemly on-the-job behaviour. The ATU may be trying to restore some public support in advance of two events: The expiry next spring of its labour contract with the TTC; and a Toronto election where transit is a hot issue.
Another big concern is increased abuse of frontline staff — if overall rapport with riders improves then incidents of verbal and physical assault may drop.
The ATU’s aim of the town halls may be self-serving, but I feel there is also a real gesture being made. The true proof of this occurs in those brief moments at the farebox. Have employees seemed more attentive since the huge outcry of a few months ago?
I asked to speak with ATU head Bob Kinnear for this column but he never replied.
It’s worth noting that Kinnear won’t be the only one on stage at the Sunday events — several union members will be there to hear and respond to riders. Control of each meeting is being turned over to a moderator, including radio host and former Conservative politician John Tory.
TTC chief general manager Gary Webster tells me he plans to attend the April 11 session and, hopefully, April 18 and May 2 as well.
He says opportunities for the public to show up and share its concerns are “a good thing. I think good will come out of this.”
Webster also reports that the TTC’s panel on customer service has met several times and has now reviewed the agency’s complaint process. The panel is likely to announce its own series of public meetings soon.