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Transit Union says Commission Should Reject TTC Management Testing Plan

Thu, 2008-09-18

The following deputation was made by ATU 113 President Bob Kinnear to today’s meeting of the Toronto Transit Commission. The deputation concerned TTC management’s proposed Fitness for Duty Policy which included plans for random drug and alcohol testing. See end note for results of the Commission vote on this issue.

Let me begin by making it clear that the Amalgamated Transit Union never has and never will dispute that every worker should report to his or her job only when they are capable of performing their work safely. And if at any time during their shift they become unable to continue performing their duties safely, they should stop immediately and report to their supervisor, if they can. That is our policy, our members know it.

ATU 113’s opposition to this proposal cannot be twisted to imply that we condone anyone coming to work impaired. As a union we are opposed to anyone being impaired on the job, no matter what their job.

There are three reasons why the Commission should reject this proposal.

First of all, it is a shameless attempt by senior management to deflect attention away from their incompetence when it comes to protecting our members’ health and safety. The worst example of this is their attempt to rewrite history and blame Tony Almeida for his own death in the subway tunnel. On page five of the report, under the headline “Working Committee Review,” the first sentence begins, and I’m quoting word for word:

“The fatal asbestos abatement accident of April 23, 2008 and other employee alcohol and drug related incidents…”

On page 5, the accusation against Tony was repeated. It reads: “In response to this serious incident and other employee alcohol and drug related incidents…”

This is a clumsy and despicable attempt to blame the victim. Nowhere in the report does it mention that TTC management pleaded guilty to health and safety negligence in this case and was fined $250,000. Nowhere does it say that the TTC’s own investigation concluded that Tony Almeida was not responsible for the accident. Nor does it say that it was a supervisor who told Tony to proceed on the run that would kill him. Nor does it quote what Chief General Manager Gary Webster said when the report was issued, only three months ago. So let me quote back to him what he told the media back then.

“Safety was taken somewhat for granted over the years,” chief general manager Gary Webster acknowledged to reporters. “Whenever you have an incident like this, you find a lot of stuff you wished you’d acted on more quickly. We’re a very good company in reacting to problems. What we need to get better at is being proactive.” Webster stressed that the TTC is not blaming its workers for the accident.

All that seems to have now changed. Management has shamefully tried to rewrite history to deflect attention away from their guilt in Tony’s tragedy.

The second reason you should reject this policy is that it would not pass a reasonable cost/benefit analysis. Management can throw all kinds of statistics and studies from other countries at you. But here in Toronto the facts are these: In the 109 years our union has been serving this city, there has never been a single fatality or even a serious injury caused by employee impairment.

This report claims that 39 employees were impaired on the job since the beginning of 2006. We dispute that number but let’s say for argument’s sake that it’s true. That’s one worker in every 150,000 shifts, and no fatalities or even serious injuries. By contrast, there have been 220 people murdered in Toronto in that same period and about a thousand more wounded seriously by guns or knives.

How many millions of dollars would this testing program cost? And how would it reduce the number of people killed by impaired TTC workers from the present figure of zero? If the City has the money for testing TTC workers, it would be better spent trying to get guns off our streets. That’s an actual public safety problem as opposed to a theoretical problem.

Finally, we oppose this proposed policy because it is degrading to workers to have to pee into a cup, probably while someone watches to make sure it’s your urine. TTC senior management thinks they have been clever to include themselves in the testing. On page 17 of the report it says that:

“Executive positions will be included in random testing because the role of these executives in making significant business decisions that affect the health and safety of the employees and the public.”

This is an obvious attempt to avoid criticism of elitism but let’s follow this logic. Let me ask you, the TTC Commissioners, whether you make significant business decisions that affect the health and safety of the employees and the public. If yes, will you agree to let someone watch you pee into a cup? But if you don’t make significant decisions that could affect public safety, why am I even talking to you? What do you do that’s so important?

How about all City Councillors and the Mayor? How about all the senior managers in Police Services, Fire Services, Emergency Medical Services, Toronto Public Health and the other city services that affect the health and safety of the public?

So unless you are willing to say that every single public official who makes decisions that could affect public health and safety must be randomly tested in the way it is proposed for ATU members you’re just a hypocrite who looks down on workers.

Our union acknowledges that the police have the right and duty to keep our roads safe from impaired drivers. We do not object to the police conducting impairment tests and laying charges under the same rules that apply to all other drivers. We trust the police and have confidence in their judgement, their professionalism and their neutrality. We do not have that confidence in TTC management and I have difficulty imaging that we would gain that confidence anytime soon.
Thank you.

Note: The Commission voted against random testing but in favour of pre-employment testing, incident-based testing and testing when a supervisor suspects that an employee has come to work impaired. The union remains opposed to giving TTC management police powers and maintains, as does the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, that there are less invasive and more reliable ways to test for impairment if there are grounds to suspect an employee is not able to safely perform his or her duties.