Committee votes to prioritize random drug and alcohol testing for TTC workers over subway maintenance and track safety programs.
The head of the TTC worker’s union is criticizing a decision by a city committee to add money to this year’s budget to pay for random drug testing of transit employees, while at the same time declining to fund new subway reliability and track safety programs.
As part of an omnibus motion on the city’s 2017 spending plan, councillors on the budget committee voted Tuesday to fund two items that the TTC requested but were originally left out of the agency’s preliminary budget.
The committee agreed to spend $1.3 million on the controversial drug testing plan, and $98,000 to employ additional transit enforcement officers.
However, there are still $4.4 million worth of “new and enhanced” services that TTC staff requested but remain unfunded. They include $1.2 million to improve signal, track, and power reliability on the subway system, a program that TTC staff say addresses “safety critical systems.”
Also unfunded is $1.3-million for a subway safety plan — which would employ watchpersons to manage train traffic when crews are at track level — and $1.9 million for retraining workers as the TTC switches to the Presto smart card system.
The budget could still change before council approves it next month, but Bob Kinnear, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 said, the committee’s decision was “very short sighted.”
“We’ve seen the results of not being proactive when it comes to maintaining our equipment,” he said, citing the “hot car” issue that plagued subways on Line 2 (Bloor-Danforth) last summer.
He said the track safety program is also vital. In 2012, a track worker died when he was struck by a maintenance train near Yorkdale station.
“Our track workers work in very difficult conditions. They’re in a very confined area, they’re working with 600 volts of electricity, so every possible measure that could be taken to improve or maintain their safety should not be disregarded,” Kinnear said.
Asked whether the TTC agreed with the budget committee’s decision to prioritize the drug testing program over the other items, a spokesperson for the agency issued a brief statement.
“TTC staff believe all of these matters are important, which is why we included them in the budget,” wrote Stuart Green in an email. “The TTC board will need to direct staff on next steps if council supports the budget committee’s recommendations.”
Budget chief councillor Gary Crawford said the committee decided to fund drug testing after a “dialogue” with the TTC during a recent budget meeting. “Some difficult choices had to be made as part of the budget process and we couldn’t do everything,” he said.
In an emailed statement, TTC chair Josh Colle said that he was “pleased” the drug program and transit enforcement officers received funding, and noted that the two programs “were investments that were endorsed by the TTC board.” He didn’t say whether he felt they were more important than the items that were left unfunded.
Kinnear’s union opposes random drug and alcohol testing, which the TTC has been pursuing since shortly after the 2007 death of one its workers, who was later found to have marijuana in his system.
The transit agency argues that random testing is necessary to ensure the safety of workers and customers, while the union argues that it’s a violation of employees’ rights.
In December, the TTC announced that it would begin the testing on Mar. 1. The Star has learned that the union has since filed a court injunction against the program, and hearings are scheduled for Feb. 28 and Mar. 1.
The TTC now says it plans to start the program on Apr. 1, pending the outcome of the hearings.
The 2017 budget will go to the mayor’s executive committee next month, with a final vote expected at council’s Feb. 15 meeting.