Bob Kinnear was everywhere before the TTC strike. But he hasn’t been seen since. Not even when he resurfaced over the phone on Monday, three days after his Amalgamated Transit Union workers walked off the job with virtually no notice.
Kinnear broke his long silence on the strike but pointedly wouldn’t apologize for calling his members off the job, despite the fact he was leaving thousands in the lurch. “You know, I’m not going to apologize for doing what was in the best interests and the safety of our members,” he insists over the phone. “By apologizing, it would insinuate that we made a mistake or we shouldn’t have done what we did.”
The besieged labour boss, who recommended the deal that was later resoundingly rejected, claims he simply had to get his workers out of the line of fire he knew would come once the news got out.
“In discussion with the executive board as well as the TTC, concerns started to arise about the safety of our members, and once the issue went public that we were in fact withdrawing our services, there was a lot of concern, not only from us but the TTC as well, on the safety of our members. And quite frankly I think that there was some concern on the TTC’s part about the safety of their vehicles and the possibility of vandalism.”
But what about the 48 hours notice that he himself had vowed would be given before any job action? “There was a substantial increase (in abuse reports) to our members the previous weekend when we gave the 48 hours notice,” he responds. “The fact is we believe the TTC also had a responsibility to convey to the public that there could be a strike if the membership did not endorse the agreement.”
He notes people were out drinking and by 2 or 3 in the morning, the situation could have put his employees in danger. So after it became clear the deal had been rejected by his members, he pulled the plug, despite knowing many riders had no other way to get home.
“We knew quite clearly that we couldn’t keep that a secret, that it was going to get out, and we were concerned,” he explains. “Because it being a Friday night and the volume of people that are consuming alcohol that it could have led to problems.”
Few are willing to accept that explanation, when it meant leaving vulnerable people in the darkness of a remote area late on Friday night. “I find it inexcusable that drivers would abandon women at midnight, wherever they happened to stop their bus,” one resident thunders.
Even some of Kinnear’s own members believe that was a P.R. disaster. “I think it wasn’t right. They not supposed to leave in the middle of the night people outside without any transportation,” agrees a bus driver named Ahmed.
But after a rare Sunday session at Queen’s Park that hurriedly introduced back-to-work legislation, it’s Kinnear who may be in trouble. Speculation is running wild that the failure of the deal, despite his personal recommendation, means he may have lost the confidence of many in the union.
Maintenance workers were incensed over the fact that the issue of outsourcing some of their work wasn’t addressed and they reportedly asked operators to support their stand against the deal.
Nearly half of the ATU’s executive board also voted against the deal. Kinnear had earlier touted it as a fair agreement and recommended it to his members for ratification. But he insists his job is secure and that he has the support of his executive.
“I am still the leader of this organization, and I do have the confidence in our membership and our executive board,” he exclaims. “But the fact still remains that it’s our membership that make the final determination, and we support that.”
There have also been some whispers that Kinnear engineered the entire thing, hoping his members would be legislated back, because those negotiations usually result in a better deal for the union. The same generally goes for workers deemed part of an essential service. Was that part of the labour leader’s goal? “No,” he swears. “This is not the outcome that we were looking for.”
And despite having become an almost constant presence during and immediately after the negotiations finished, why isn’t Kinner willing to appear on camera instead of just over the phone?
“I’ve been accused of hiding,” he claims, completely denying the allegation. He insists he’s been busy with lawyers, plotting strategy for the coming arbitration. “I also have my priorities, and that is with my membership to try and insure that we get a better agreement for them.”
The arbitration is expected to begin this week, and if no deal has been reached in 90 days, the government-appointed deal-maker has the power to impose a settlement.